Pond Hockey Movie Review

Pond Hockey
Documentary, 79 min
Directed by Tommy Haines
Landlocked: Saturday, August 23, 3:00pm

Pond Hockey is a documentary no hockey fan should miss. But it would be a shame if only hockey fans were to see it, because, like all good sports movies, it’s about the forces that nurture and threaten what truly brings us joy. The movie—directed by Tommy Haines, a Minnesotan currently living in Iowa City—follows a few teams in the first U.S. Pond Hockey tournament in which former NHL players compete alongside aging rinkrats for the Golden Shovel.

Interwoven with the drama of the tournament are interviews with various hockey luminaries about the origins of hockey and the current state of the game, which like most sports has become mercilessly serious. Anyone who has seen young kids being drilled on how to run a play will be able to appreciate one of the movie’s hockey stars when he growls, “The kid’s six years old! Who gives a shit what he does?” But it’s not a case of freedom uncritically preferred over discipline. The point is that discipline is meaningless without all the knowledge absorbed from the endless hours of doing what one loves. It’s also meaningless if it doesn’t bring us back to what we love.

At times, the movie flirts with the idea that we’ve created a safe, structured, semi-competent world for ourselves at the cost of joy. But it also shows all the ways that individuals and communities resist the soft dehumanization of our lives. What is the recipe for real joy? In this case, it begins with ice thick enough to skate on, for it is dependent on nature; it requires spontaneity and freedom, the kind out of which all games are born; ideally, it is nurtured by a family or a community, though a lot of the nurturing simply involves dropping off the kids—or the husbands—to noodle around by themselves for hours.

Though it may produce athletes like Wayne Gretzky or Neal Broten, both of whom are interviewed, its real end is in the joy itself. At one point, Broten, who was on the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” Olympic team and is now a US Hockey hall-of-famer with a Stanley Cup, talks wistfully of his days as a kid on the pond and then says, dead-serious, “Sometimes I wish I could just go back and be eight years old again.”

Full disclosure: publisher Andrew Sherburne is a producer on Pond Hockey]