A beauty moment occurred as a dozen current and former NHL enforcers took to the stage after the world premiere of Ice Guardians, a new documentary about hockey fighters. Just as the panel was kicking off, Luke Gazdic of the Edmonton Oilers had to stop the proceedings.
“Sorry,” he announced to the crowd and host/producer, Adam Scorgie. “But I’m a Toronto boy and I’ve never met Wendel Clark before.”
With that, Gazdic crossed the stage and shook hands with Clark, his idol. It was definitely an appropriate moment for the evening.
If you like fighting, Ice Guardians will be your jam. If you don’t like fighting…well, then you don’t like fighting and you’re probably not going to change your mind on the topic.
The documentary does a deep dive on donnybrooks, getting the inside scoop from a murderers’ row of famous players. Of course you have the enforcers themselves – Gazdic, Brian McGrattan, Joey Kocur, Dave ‘The Hammer’ Schultz and Nick Fotiu to name a few – but also the guys they protected. Hall of Famers Brett Hull and Chris Chelios, for example, talk about how much easier their jobs were thanks to the enforcers on their teams.
And while the documentary has a big pro-fighting angle, it doesn’t ignore the controversies. Concussions and injuries are covered and one of the most powerful testimonials comes from Kevin Westgarth and his wife, Meagan, who describe the aftermath of Kevin getting knocked out cold during a game.
As a journalist, it was interesting to see how worked up the players get about their treatment in the media. It was a theme in the film and came up again during the post-premiere panel discussion. Kelly Chase was a key source for the movie and he talked about making sure the filmmakers weren’t going to be ragging on his boys before he signed on, while Todd Fedoruk offered his mission statement on participating in the movie:
“We handle the narrative,” he said. “We wanted to speak for every guy who had fought in a game.”
Fedoruk got very passionate when he talked about the way fighters are treated by the media and McGrattan chimed in by jokingly asking “Hey ‘Fridge,’ you ever fight behind a keyboard?”
I’m probably a minority in the media at this point, in that I like fighting. Makes me a bit of an easy target for this film and when players (including Hull) wondered how much safer the game would be with smaller, lighter shoulder pads – since only about five percent of concussions come from fights – I certainly considered how slow the game has been in changing that gear.
Policing the game was another topic, and I’d much rather have McGrattan in the league than Matt Cooke. Cheapshot artists are good at their jobs because for the most part, they can hide their actions from the refs. Now, if you wanted an NHL without fighting and without cheap shots, you’d need to give the department of player safety the green light to re-watch every game with multiple camera angles and punish guys retroactively for spears, slewfoots or anything else that happens behind the play when the officials aren’t watching. Could penalties get called from an above-ice official in a booth, minutes after the infraction occurred? These are options, but they seem like the beginning of a slippery slope.
It was interesting to see the fighters in the film reveal just how things go down. Scott Parker, best known for his time in Colorado and San Jose, was particularly entertaining. In the movie, he noted how he would tell liberty-taking opponents that if they didn’t knock it off, he wouldn’t fight them, he would beat up their team’s tough guy – prompting said tough guy to look down the bench at the guilty party and say, “really?”
We all know that fighting is trending down in hockey. For those of us who like it – or in the case of the players, live it – there is a great unknown. What would the NHL game be like if it was eliminated? As Zenon Konopka noted on the post-screening panel, there’s no way the NHL would bring fighting back into the game if the league banned it and then found the unintended consequences made things worse. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. But with Ice Guardians, those who inspired the greatest loyalty from their teammates now have a documentary that captures their legacy – and most importantly for them, their narrative.
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