A fascination with the role of enforcers and tough guys started an eight-year journey to produce Ice Guardians. The documentary seeks to highlight the stories of hockey’s on-ice pugilists and honor their place the history of the game.
The impetus behind the upcoming documentary Ice Guardians wasn’t a love of fighting or a love of fighters. Rather, it’s the result of fascination.
Producer Adam Scorgie and director Brett Harvey were gripped by the role the game’s enforcers had taken on and the untraditional and sometimes circuitous routes they had taken to the world of professional hockey.
Undeniably, the role of the enforcer or tough guy is one unlike any other in sports, especially team sports. But making a documentary about fighting in hockey — and more specifically the players who earn their living with their fists as much as their sticks — wasn’t an easy task, Scorgie said. The game’s toughest players can sometimes be some of the most guarded due to years of scrutiny regarding their place in the game. That was one major hurdle the team behind Ice Guardians had to clear in the eight-year process of making this documentary.
“They didn’t really want to talk to people because they thought, ‘Oh, you’re another person who is going to make me out to seem like a big dummy that doesn’t belong in the game,’ ” Scorgie told THN. “Until we started asking what they said were the right questions and wanted to understand their role instead of coming at it with a preconceived notion of how we wanted to depict it.”
Once the players understood the intentions of Scorgie and Harvey, though, Ice Guardians really took off. It almost got to the point where the crew had too many players willing to share their stories, Scorgie said. All told the crew sat down with nearly 40 players, both current and former, to get a look behind the curtain at what makes hockey’s enforcers tick. All they wanted, it seemed, was a chance to talk.
“The players gave us everything and asked for nothing…not one player, not Brett Hull, not Clark Gillies, none of the tough guys, they didn’t ask for anything,” Scorgie said. “Not an appearance fee, not a bit of money. They were just happy, once the word got out that we were really wanting to tell their story, to open up the doors and tell us.”
It may sound funny to hear players such as Hull and Gillies linked to a film about enforcers, but Scorgie said the appreciation the offensively gifted players have for the tough guys they played alongside became clear. Chris Chelios, Jarome Iginla and Bobby Hull are among the other big-name talent that appear in the documentary, but it’s Brett Hull’s declaration about his two former tough-guy teammates that stood out to Scorgie.
“(He) says in the film, ‘I can tell you right now, Brett Hull would not have been the same player without guys like Kelly Chase and Tony Twist having his back,’ ” Scorgie recalled, adding that Hull later reiterated the sentiment during a question-and-answer session.
Lest one think the documentary is all about extolling the virtues of on-ice pugilism, Scorgie assured the film doesn’t just feature the NHL’s toughest players talking about their role in a positive light. In other words, it doesn’t “shy away” from the dark parts of fighting. There’s talk of the deaths, concussions and addictions that have haunted fighters, all of which have become hot-button issues when it comes to keeping fighting in the game.
Scorgie credits director Brett Harvey and editor Stephen Green as the “creative wizards” behind the project, and Scorgie believes Harvey’s directorial style and the editing of Harvey and Green is what makes the film stand out most. Operating the camera while continuing to interview the players, Harvey was able to see and capture the emotion of the players, Scorgie said. That’s evident in seeing an emotional Zenon Konopka near tears in the opening clip of the trailer, which has gone viral in hockey circles over the past few days.
One player Scorgie believes will really connect with the audience, much in the way Konopka’s raw emotion is so powerful, is Brian McGrattan. Scorgie said it’s hard not to fall in love with the story McGrattan tells of his career, of his addiction problems and his sobriety.
“It’s tough not to be moved when someone shares their soul like that,” Scorgie said.
The documentary is set to debut in Toronto on Sept. 12 during the Toronto International Film Festival and a television debut is slotted for early October in Canada. And with the release near, Scorgie is hoping those who see the documentary understand one important thing.
“It’s not here to advocate for fighting and it’s definitely not here to put a negative spin on it,” Scorgie said. “It’s just here to honor these guys and their place in hockey history, because they deserve to be there just like anyone else.”
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.