The new documentary "Hockeyland" tells the story of the senior boys from Minnesota’s North Country's rival communities who skate for a last chance to gain local glory
Greenwich Entertainment, a leading distributor of independent films, has acquired North American distribution rights to the critically-acclaimed documentary feature Hockeyland about rival high school hockey teams in Minnesota’s North Country. The area is one of the breeding grounds for hockey greats who go onto to collegiate and professional play, including the National Hockey League (NHL).
Hockeyland is directed and produced by Tommy Haines. Haines and former Eveleth star player Elliot Van Orsdel join SportsJam with Doug Doyle to talk about the award-winning film that has played leading doc festivals like DOC NYC, Big Sky, Seattle, Milwaukee and RiverRun.
Haines, a director, cinematographer and editor at Northland Films, received praise from ESPN back in 2008, calling his feature Pond Hockey the best hockey hockey movie ever. Haines was excited to return to his Minnesota roots for this new project.
"I was raised in a neighboring town of where Elliot grew up, a little town called Mountain Iron, and actually Elliot's mom is from there originally, we are only a couple years apart. I've been wanting to do a high school hockey film for 15 years. I met Neil Broten, who is a former New Jersey Devil, won the Stanley Cup with them, and even after he had won a Cup and the Hobie Baker (Award) and won the Miracle on Ice (1980 Olympic Gold Medal), he still talked about those days playing for Roseau, Minnesota and losing in the state tournament and how much those games meant to him. That was something I wanted to capture, like what's that experience now and what are these boys going through now. I heard that Elliot's school Eveleth was going to be consolidating with a neighboring school Virginia, Minnesota so we wanted to have this storied program. They won five of the first seven state titles. A lot of Olympians came from that school so we wanted to make sure we got that final year."
Elliot Van Orsdel and his parents are featured in Hockeyland. As a junior and senior, Van Orsdel led the Eveleth Golden Bears in scoring and finished his high school career with 100 points. After high school, Elliot moved to St. Paul and was the captain of the Minnesota Mullets junior hockey team. This fall, Elliot will be playing D3 hockey for the University of Southern Maine.
Van Orsdel agrees the parents of hockey players are the real heroes in this sport.
"Without a doubt, my parents are the engine behind what my career is. It all started with them from the early ages, the support, brining me to practice, the financials of things. Without their love and support I wouldn't be where I am today. I remember when they were at the first practice and the film crew was being brought in and I said hey mom we're going to be in a movie and it was definitely an eye-opener. She was like, let me clean up the dishes, let me clean up the house. It was scary to convince them (parents) to be able do that, but in the end it ended up being one of the best decisions I've ever made and extremely thankful I was able to do that. Introducing that to them, they were a little shellshocked for sure."
Eveleth—“the Home of Hockey”—is half of its former size, and hiring at the mine is down. But the US Hockey Hall of Fame remains a symbol of the town's national impact—there’s never been a gold medal USA Olympic team without an Eveleth player.
Van Orsdel says growing up in North Country of Minnesota was significant in his development as a player and an individual.
"The ability to go out to the rink and have all this free ice from the time we got up up and walked to school with our skates, our bag and our gloves and sticks and put them in our locker and right after school from 3 to 10 o'clock go out and skate, it made me who I am today. Being up here in the cold and being miserable on those nights when are toes are too cold to stay on the rink, it made it all the more worth it. I'm proud to be a northern Minnesotan."
This documentary not only captures the beauty of the sport but also the region, something director Tommy Haines was looking for.
"It's just a beautiful part of the country, honestly. We wanted to make sure we showed the experience of these high school boys but also show the place that they are living in and that sets the scene. It was a big part of our filmmaking process."
Haines says they were looking at other towns but when he heard that Eveleth (High School) was going away, he knew the crew had to make the film that final season.
"It literally took us a winter of shooting. We shot for four months in and out of Elliot's house and then we edited the film for 9-10 months, so it took about two years from the start of the film to the end. The pandemic kind of slowed things down. The theatrical world kind of shut down during the pandemic, but we're super excited to have this film out there now."
Hockeyland's fellow producers are Andrew Sherburne and Tommy's brother JT Haines. The executive producer is Carson Kipfer. Greenwich Entertainment has set a September 9 theatrical release for the film, starting in Minneapolis and other Midwest cities, before expanding in the U.S. and Canada. A digital release will follow in October.
You can SEE the entire SportsJam interview with Tommy Haines and Elliot Van Orsel here.