“I was watching the fights and a hockey game broke out” is an old, old joke. Fights are to the NHL and AHL what crashes are to NASCAR, the reason a lot of people watch them who otherwise wouldn’t. Brett Harvey’s documentary Ice Guardians is a look at the men who do most of that fighting, the enforcers, or to be less politically correct, goons.
Using both talking head interviews and some great archival footage it traces the role of fighting in hockey and the men paid to do it from the early days up to the present. From the first tough guys brought in to the current crop who train for the role with a regime much like that of an MMA fighter. From Philadelphia’s “Broad Street Bullies” and Boston’s “Big Bad Bruins” in the 70s to recent rule changes that diminish their role.
Ice Guardians looks at why they fight, in terms of it’s role in the game and their own personal reasons for becoming enforcers. From the guys who see it as needed defense of their goal scorers, to those who lacked the finer skills that would allow them to make it at another position to the ones who simply loved to fight. All of them are represented in the interviews and it gives a well rounded view of the role that goes beyond the stereotypical goon.
Of course no film on the subject can avoid dealing with McSorley’s stick to the head of Donald Brashear or the Todd Bertuzzi–Steve Moore incident and their effects on not just enforcers but hockey itself. Those along with the rising awareness of concussions are all examined as part of the rising controversy over fighting in hockey and the decline of the enforcer. It also looks at the potential downside of more injuries to players without the threat of retaliation from one of these tough guys to protect them. Especial now that hockey players have gone from small and wiry to big and muscled like most other athletes.
While it might be of limited appeal to non fans, those into hockey will find this film fascinating. Even as just a casual fan I found it very interesting despite running close to two hours. It’s worth a watch for anyone with an interest in the game, or to some degree professional sports in general.
Ice Guardians is in limited theatrical release ahead of VOD and DVD release next year.