We’re One Week Away from Painting This Town in Touques

Pond Hockey DVDOne week from today the documentary ‘Pond Hockey’ arrives for a single-night screening at Washington’s historic Avalon Theater. Next Monday night we know we’re in for a great cinematic experience, one that richly captures outdoor hockey’s ageless and enduring appeal, but we have another aim for the evening: we want every puckhead patron seated in the theater in a touque! This will be our symbolism of solidarity as a newly arrived hockey town.

We’ll be snapping pics of the touqued, and the wearer of the best touque in our survey will be awarded a giant Pond Hockey movie poster signed by filmmakers Tommy Haines and Andrew Sherburne. We’ll have additional signed movie posters as well, and we’ll hold a drawing for those.

If you haven’t secured your tickets, do so right here. Also, consider purchasing the Pond Hockey DVD as a stocking stuffer for the puckhead in your holiday good tidings. Or just to add to your collection of special treatments of hockey on DVD.

OFB now has a Facebook presence, and an event page for this special night at the movies. If you visit the event page, you’ll see how many folks around town are keenly interested in making it to the Avalon next Monday night.

In the spirit of the Capitals’ Student Rush program, knowing that now especially undergraduates are trying to scrape up funds to get home for the holidays, we’re awarding a free pair of tickets to the screening each day this week through Friday. The only requirement is that you be a college student in the region and contact us from your school email addy. Each day we’ll select a favorite student email detailing an instance of skipping school to go play pond hockey.

To whet your appetite for ‘Pond Hockey’s’ arrival in Washington, filmmakers Haines and Sherburne consented to a 10-question OFB grilling from yours truly, the content of which follows. Read it in your competitive touque!

pucksandbooks: From the very first time I watched the trailer for ‘Pond Hockey’ I had the thought: this seems like such a natural subject for documentary treatment, why hasn’t it been done before? From the splendor of nature’s winter gifts to the exhilaration of shinny’s participants — at every age — this just seemed to me to be a winning film idea. You guys conceived this project a few years ago, and I wonder, what was your igniting inspiration? Was it a moment of recognition while playing shinny? Something you read? Warming up in a bar after a full day of play?

Tommy Haines: The first seed was planted a long time ago, growing up playing outdoor hockey as a kid in Northern Minnesota. When I moved to Iowa in 2003 I realized how special outdoor hockey is (you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone). But, yeah, the final bit of inspiration probably involved a bar somewhere.

pucksandbooks: Anyone who has enjoyed the novelty of playing hockey as it first invited people to, outdoors, has seized upon its timeless appeal, and I don’t think it’s overstatement to suggest that truly there is a spiritual dynamic to the experience. As you talked with hundreds and hundreds of hockey players in your years putting this film together, I wonder how often they acknowledged something like this — that the pursuit of playing outdoors in layers, enduring ‘burning’ toes, chasing after errant pucks in tall grass, was about more than competition or exercise, that it was an experience fathers wanted to share with sons, brothers with brothers while home for a visit at Christmas, that kind of thing?

Tommy Haines: Can we say everyone? Seriously! That was one of the amazing things about this project was learning over and over again how whether you are from Sweden, Russia, Canada, the US; if you are an NHL All-Star, a former D-1 player, or even a rink rat who never played organized hockey — everyone had similar stories of growing up [with outdoor hockey]. The snow is falling, you’re almost flying on the ice — it truly does become something spiritual.

Jose Theodore, warding off Heritage Classic chillAndrew Sherburne: Definitely, the frozen toes, playing into the wind, skating until the sun goes down. Playing outdoors is about more than just hockey, it’s a mentality, a connection to the world around us — to the people in our lives — that’s hard to find in the arena.

pucksandbooks: If I had to identify a single-most memorable quality to my own outdoor hockey playing experiences, it would be the distinctive friendships that I forged with strangers I shared frozen ponds and canals with over the years. With Washington’s warmer winters, I could be 5 or 7 years removed from being able to return to my favorite skating spots, but occasionally when I am able to return, I will on that winter Saturday morning see a familiar face or two from a skate years and years back. We don’t necessarily remember one another’s names, but when we’re reunited in that moment, there’s a unique smile of recognition we do share. Can there possibly be any comparable connection in all of recreational sports?

Tommy Haines: I don’t think so. Sand-lot baseball, blacktop basketball — those are all special memories too, but there is something more to outdoor hockey. The common instinct to head to the pond when the weather obliges, it stays with you, and when mother nature cooperates again, you can feel it.

pucksandbooks: If you had to distill outdoor hockey’s cross-generational, cross-cultural appeal into a single sentence, what would it be?

Andrew Sherburne: Freedom. And not in some political way, but the freedom to roam the ice, to glide across a pond, to play without rules; that’s sport at its purest.

pucksandbooks: I’m a big believer that skating outdoors on big surfaces as a youth has irrefutably positive effects on skill-building, both for skating and stick handling. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that some of the game’s greatest skaters (Orr and Gilbert Perreault, most particularly) churned their legs on large-sized lakes and rivers. What are your thoughts about outdoor hockey’s skill-building virtues?

Tommy Haines: It’s critical. The ice is bumpy, so you get better hands. The pressure cracks which force you to be good at improvisation. Shoveling makes you stronger and heartier, works the muscles. You skate into the wind, in the snow, and brave freezing temps, which makes you a tougher and grittier hockey player. Can you work on these skill building exercises in the indoor game? To a certain extent yes. But more than anything else, playing outside builds your love and appreciation for the sport.

pucksandbooks: What’s at stake if the youth hockey experience evolves, as it appears at present to be doing, away from the outdoor ritual shinny offers of camaraderie, improvisation, and time-constraint-free skating, to one exclusively of years of rote, highly structured drills indoors in formally coached settings?

Tommy Haines: You might lose that love of the game. When you see the Miracle on Ice team win the gold medal in 1980, you see more than a bunch of robots going out and do
ing their jobs. You see grown men living out their childhood dreams, there’s an enjoyment and fulfillment in their faces you only can see on the players that truly love the game.

pucksandbooks: Clearly the NHL has embraced outdoor hockey, not just with the now annual Winter Classics but also as northern teams make a bit of a habit of skating outdoors for practices once in a while, seemingly to break up the routine of their indoor practices. The Senators have done this, as have numerous American League teams. What more can and should the NHL do to promote outdoor hockey?

Andrew Sherburne: Sponsor more shinny tournaments for the kids. Work with the arenas in the warmer areas to promote “pond hockey” style play.
 
Tommy Haines: I know it’s unrealistic, but rip the roofs off these arenas. If you can play football outside in the snow (i.e. Lambeau Field), why can’t we play hockey the same way? Sure, it would never happen, but the Winter Classic was so cool last year — for the fans, the players and the people sitting at home — why can’t we have that for the entire season?

Banff - pond hockeypucksandbooks: Give me your all-time shinny team — Team USA vs. Team Canada — for a four-on four Saturday showdown. The four best from each nation from all eras considered.

Tommy Haines: Team USA — Neal Broten, Jeremy Roenick, Johnny Mayasich, Mike Modano (give Patrick Kane one or two more years to make the team)

Team Canada (boring I know, but how can you argue?) — Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe, Sidney Crosby (Steve Yzerman if Crosby gets a cold)

pucksandbooks: Great squads, no doubt, but I’ll take my chances against both with Eurizone, Johnson, McClanahan, and Morrow.

pucksandbooks: You must have visited some amazingly gorgeous locales with your cameras — Minnesota parks, Quebec farm properties, perhaps mountain retreats in the American Northeast. Among all of that beauty, can you identify a truly standout site for outdoor hockey — something that today looms as a bit of a natural hockey postcard in your mind’s eye? Put another way, where is Pond Hockey Mecca?

Andrew Sherburne: You want the cheesy answer? Pond Hockey Mecca is different for everybody. You talk to anyone and their favorite spot isn’t the most beautiful spot they’ve played, it’s where their team is. It’s about the people you play with. That’s what’s different about outdoor hockey: every pond has its flaws, but every one is unique. You love it because it’s yours.

pucksandbooks: Lastly, I’ve heard that you’re actually considering screening ‘Pond Hockey’ this winter out on a frozen pond, presumably in your home state, the State of Hockey. Can I be invited to that?

Tommy Haines: Of course, bring your skates!

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