We all know that guy who buys the most expensive hockey stick but can barely hit the net, or the guy who plays beer league hockey more for the drinking than the game itself. It’s those types who inspired the IFC comedy Benders, which follows the on and off-ice misadventures of four men who have an unhealthy obsession for playing on their terrible team.
“If you’ve been in a locker room before, or on any kind of rec league hockey team, these guys exist,” said actor Mark Gessner, who plays the bespectacled Dickie Litski on the show.
Benders, which wrapped its eight-episode first season in November, was co-created by Tom Sellitti and Jim Serpico, while comedian and renowned Bruins fan Denis Leary is the executive producer. The trio had previously developed the comedy Maron for IFC in 2013. Not long after, the network approached them about developing a show about hockey.
“That was ironic for us because we are hockey fans,” Sellitti said. “I played hockey since I was a kid. I’m still playing in a men’s league. We know the funny things that come out of it.”
The funniest moments in Benders stem from the laundry list of things that can and do go wrong in beer league hockey: no-show goalies, games conflicting with family matters and teammates moving up to a higher skill level. The last one is particularly humorous, as the players play in “Division Eight” of a New York rec league, where they are more likely to fall on their faces than make plays.
The decision to make the show about woefully bad players was twofold. “We thought there would be many more opportunities for comedy if the characters were taking it seriously, even though they weren’t excelling at it,” Sellitti said. “On the production side, it helped because we didn’t need to cast every actor who could skate. They could be bad, and we could play it that way.”
Of the four main characters in the show, only Gessner had prior hockey experience. He grew up idolizing Mark Messier and played high school hockey. He didn’t have to sandbag too much, however. “My skills are not what they once were,” Gessner said, “which is actually a benefit.”