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New Hockey Movie Has Chicago Ties

by Staff Writer / Chicago Blackhawks
Hollywood has made some memorable films about hockey.

"Slap Shot," with its violent but comical take on the game, was clever and entertaining. (Who can forget the Hanson Brothers?)

There was "Miracle," the true and inspirational story about the 1980 USA Hockey team and even "The Mighty Ducks" series, with the flying-V, the bash brothers and the knuckle puck.

But one of the latest hockey films, "In the Crease," offers much more.

The 90-minute documentary features commentary from NHL stars, including Blackhawks winger Martin Havlat, and details the North American youth hockey experience through the actual kids, coaches and parents who participate.

There is no cast in "In the Crease." There are only real people facing real adversity with real emotions.

"It is a universal story of youth hockey for all teams," said filmmaker Matt Gannon, who also co-produced the Oscar nominated 'Girl with a Pearl Earring.' "The game of hockey is an experience all to itself. We wanted to tell it through the people actually involved."

The movie follows the California Wave Bantam AAA team, 14- and 15-year-olds, as it prepares for the 2005 USA Hockey National Championship at the Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville, Ill., the Chicago Blackhawks practice facility.

The Wave, a not-for-profit organization from Southern California, has sent a number of its players to Canadian junior leagues, major colleges, prep schools and to the U.S. National Team.

"This is a film that gives an inside look at the youth hockey experience that kids, coaches, and parents around the country can relate to," Gannon said. "We picked an age group that was on the cusp of becoming young adults, where the parents are still much involved, but at the same time they are getting older and becoming more independent."

It may sound like it is a part of the "Mighty Ducks" series, but there is much more to the film. Produced by former youth hockey players Gannon and Michael Sarmer, "In the Crease" explores hockey through a personal lens by using multiple one-on-one interviews.

"One of the goals from the start was to show the type of impact hockey had on the kids' lives," Gannon said. "It was such a positive experience for me when I grew up and it still is for many kids. Hockey is a passionate sport played by passionate people and supported by passionate people."

Although it may be one the most prestigious programs in Southern California, Gannon said they chose the Wave -- with its long, curly haired players -- over teams from more traditional hockey markets to show how the game has spread to the most unlikely regions.

"It's somewhat of an underdog story," Gannon said. "These are beach kids that walk into an ice rink in flip-flops, then strap it on and play hockey, real good hockey. Hockey is spreading to all these nontraditional areas. We wanted to show that."

Players come from all over the West Coast to play for the Wave. One player moved with his mother from Washington and other players commute together to and from practice by train from other California cities.

For many hockey players in North America, junior hockey is a year-long commitment full of long car rides, cross-country trips and early morning practices. So without a doubt there are strains on the players and their families.

"In the Crease," though, captures all that by providing a behind-the-scenes look into the locker room, car rides, train rides, the players' homes and Wave practices. There are interviews with coaches, scouts and most importantly the parents.

"It's important to have good people around you, the coaches and all the parents, who are taking of care of the team," Havlat told chicagoblackhawks.com. "It's important to have people that love hockey and that are just trying to make the kids happy and take care of them."

The Wave players are also typical teenagers affected by typical teenage concerns such as a parents' divorce, girls, a social life and future decisions. For some Wave players, hockey became a form of escape.

"We wanted to show the role of hockey in their lives," Gannon said. "We wanted to capture real life. For some, hockey really helped. It really brings people together."

Gannon said the Wave was also chosen for their diversity. There are players with Caucasian, Indian, Mexican and Asian backgrounds on the team, which is led by an African-American head coach in Mike Lewis.

"Hockey players are coming from everywhere now," Gannon said. "The game is diversifying. There are kids out there who are attracted to the game. It shouldn't matter what ethnicity they are."

In its entirety, "In the Crease" is part of a grander scheme. The movie promotes hockey, while at the same time, tells a story about of group of kids from California that share a dream and pursue it together.

"Junior hockey is really important for every hockey player," Havlat said. "I mean, it all starts right there with youth hockey."

SWEET HOME CHICAGO

There are plenty of Chicago connections in the film. The 2005 USA Hockey National Championship was hosted by Team Illinois at rinks in Bensenville and Hoffman Estates. The Bensenville rink, the Edge Ice Arena, is the Blackhawks practice facility.

Martin Havlat is featured in the film and is also in the DVD's bonus features. He talks about his junior experiences and about his father, who played defenseman years ago in the Czech Republic. He was Martin's youth hockey coach.

"He was the guy who was taking me to practices every morning and going to my games," Havlat said.

In addition, the Los Angeles Kings' Craig Conroy, a New York native, describes one of his junior trips to Chicago, which included a trip to the "Old Stadium" to watch the Blackhawks.

Team Illinois is featured in the film, and the film's executive producer, Will Hobert, lives in Chicago and has a son who plays hockey in the area.

SEEING STARS

In addition to Havlat and Conroy, other NHL players in the film include Jeremy Roenick, Brendan Shanahan, Scott Gomez, Joe Thornton, Mathieu Schneider, Glen Murray, Scott Niedermayer, Brian Rolston, Derian Hatcher and Mike Comrie.

Havlat, Shanahan, Thornton, Niedermayer and Rolston were all All-Stars this season.

"Playing in the All-Star game was one of my dreams when I played (junior hockey)," Havlat said. "I was really happy and fortunate I was named to the team this year."

TOP OF THE CIRCLE

A week before Christmas, "In the Crease" was the top-selling sports DVD on Amazon.com, beating titles from NASCAR and NFL Films. "In the Crease" has also been the top-selling hockey DVD over the last month.

HOW TO GET IT

Buy it now on DVD at InTheCreaseMovie.com

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