Updated: 10:25 am
Iron Range native Tommy Haines grew up, as so many do in northern Minnesota, playing ice hockey. His love for the sport and culture surrounding it inspired his first documentary in 2008, and is the subject of his new documentary “Hockeyland,” showing soon in movie theaters across the state.
“[Hockey is] obviously a topic I was really interested in, for the last 15 to 20 years,” Haines said. “I was surprised that there wasn’t a film made about high school hockey in Minnesota. You have ‘Hoop Dreams,’ you have ‘ Friday Night Lights’ and there really wasn’t that story told yet.”
Haines focused on the 2019-2020 season of an Iron Range high school hockey team, the Eveleth-Gilbert Golden Bears and the Hermantown Hawks. The Golden Bears were facing their last hockey season before merging with another school’s program.
Meanwhile, the Hawks were bent on a championship win. There are last-minute scores, brawls breaking out midgame and the love and passion of hockey parents.
Beyond the rink, “Hockeyland” features four senior players, including Montreal Canadiens prospect Blake Biondi. It explores the teens’ struggles with their mental and physical well-being, and gives a glimpse into their home lives. Scenes depicting dates, late night drives and family dynamics share the screen with ice time.
The film also features the coaches, and the role they play in developing the teens as players and as people.
“That’s why we do what we do. And I don’t think I’m the exception, I think I’m the norm,” said Pat Andrews, the head coach of the Hermantown Hawks. “I think high school coaches do such a tremendous job of caring for their athletes. I don’t know if there’s a group of people who care more about their athletes.”
Not every aspect of Minnesota high school hockey is covered in the documentary.
“I’m actually very interested in what’s happening with girls’ hockey in Minnesota,” Haines said, adding he would want to collaborate with a woman director.
Theaters in towns like Bemidji were among the first to agree to show “Hockeyland,” with more than 60 theaters in Minnesota planning to screen it.
Dwight Gunderson, the director of film buying for CEC and Mann theaters in Minnesota, expects the film to do well.
“You don’t always get the chance to have movies that reflect your local communities,” Gunderson said.
Coach Andrews hopes people will relate to the connections players have between each other.
“Ultimately, I think what the film conveys is that they’re in it for their brothers and their community,” he said. “I think that’s what makes hockey so special in Minnesota.”
Aside from theaters in Minnesota, around 70 theaters nationwide are expected to show the film starting next week. It will also be available on Amazon and Apple TV Oct. 16.
Correction (Sept. 9, 2022): An earlier version of this story misidentified Hermantown as being on the Iron Range.