Five months after the film's debut, the creators of "Ice Guardians" are still learning that answer.
In September 2016, executive producer and co-creator, Adam Scorgie saw his project come to life on the big screen for the first time. Scorgie, a British Columbia native and die-hard hockey fan, had pondered the enigma that is the National Hockey League's enforcers, and the idea of fighting within the sport of hockey. A producer of documentary-style films, Scorgie began putting together the framework for "Ice Guardians" circa 2008.
"The main thing that director Brett Harvey and I wanted to make sure was that we honored the players' story correctly. Often for years there had been other pieces done on enforcers and usually the producer or someone in the media is trying to push their narrative or their point of view, whether to ban fighting or whatever," explains Scorgie. "That's why when you see the film, you see there's no narration - we let the players narrate the story and tell it from their perspective."
Based on the response the film has garnered since its world premiere in Toronto, Scorgie and Harvey achieved their goal.
"I couldn't be happier because the guys love it. Even players that weren't involved in the film have been tweeting and talking about it and saying 'wow,' 'amazing,' 'totally honest,' and the biggest thing from the other players is 'I love the film, but why didn't you interview me? I could have added some stuff to it,'" shares Scorgie. "So truly knowing we honored their story correctly is really the biggest reward."
"Ice Guardians" currently boasts an 8.0 rating on IMDb, and a score of 70 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
One of the biggest concepts that Scorgie hopes movie-watchers will take away from the film is the importance of the "enforcer" role to a hockey team, and the true character of all those that embodied it.
"These guys meant so much more to their team than just the fighting aspect that you know them for," divulges Scorgie, who was delighted at how personable the players used for the film were. "When you have players like Brett Hull saying he would not have been successful as he was without players like Kelly Chase or Tony Twist looking after him, that makes you look at things differently. When you look at how Kevin [Westgarth] is respected in LA with the organization, he means so much more to that team than some dumb goon that didn't belong playing in the NHL."
Westgarth, who has a featured role in the film, played parts of five seasons in the LA Kings organization, which culminated with him being part of the franchise's first ever Stanley Cup Championship in 2012. Not having already met the requirements to get his name engraved on the Cup, the Kings petitioned the NHL to make it happen, on the count of Westgarth's importance to the team.
Those who know Westgarth would scratch their heads at the mention of the Princeton University graduate and the term "dumb goon" in the same sentence.
The decision to participate in "Ice Guardians" came after learning that the film was to be a "love letter to the enforcers" of sorts, and the fact that Scorgie and company came knocking near the end of Westgarth's hockey career.
"It was a great time to reflect on kind of what it all meant. When you're in day-to-day you don't want to take that step back, you want to be fully engaged and on your game every single day, so it was something I was excited to take part in," shares Westgarth. "Seeing the execution of it was exciting in both that it was what they told me and they did an excellent job of it."
For Westgarth, like pretty much every other player with an "enforcer" label, being a fighter in the NHL wasn't the primary aspiration. Westgarth didn't start gaining a reputation as a fighter until he was playing Junior hockey and his teammates looked to him to physically neutralize an opposing player, knowing that Westgarth had proven in the past that he was capable of getting the job done.
While the film points out that the enforcer role is gray - as opposed to black and white - with respect to the fact that not everyone develops in the role the same way, Westgarth does acknowledge that there is one thing that they all have in common.
"There are a few threads that inevitably everybody doing the role possesses and that's the willingness and desire to protect a teammate," admits Westgarth. "I think that's one of the biggest things that epitomizes the role and honestly epitomizes hockey: The desire to keep your teammates safe and make sure nobody's taking liberties with them."
Kings forward Jarome Iginla is also in the film. While Iginla's game never required that he take on an enforcer role, his well-rounded style of play has lent to a good number of fights throughout his 22-year NHL career.
"When I was in Junior at 16, I was trying to figure out how I could be successful and how I could get to the next level," says the now 39-year-old Iginla. "It was just more about being assertive and trying to be a power forward and that means being physical, trying to be good in the corners, take the puck to the net, and it just kind of evolved. But when you're trying to play assertive and aggressive fighting sometimes happens just out of aggression and sometimes anger."
Iginla understands that there is a difference between the majority of his fights and the ones engaged in on a regular basis by many of the other players interviewed in "Ice Guardians."
"I think you're trying to earn space out there, and I think that I've tried to earn space. Do I like [fighting]? Yeah, I do, I don't mind it, I like the competing part of it, but I was also very fortunate - it's different if you have to do it for a living," states Iginla, who concedes five fights in one season would have been a lot for him. "Some of the guys that have to do it for a living it's a little different approach. Most of my fights over time have just come out of, in the moment, playing hard. It's a lot easier to let loose in those cases than if it was more of a job."
Westgarth and Iginla are two examples of how the role of the enforcer evolves differently in different players, and the film delves significantly deeper into even more relevant themes.
Between Canada and the United States, there have been multiple screenings of the documentary, and the screenings themselves have provided further insight and opportunity for those associated with the movie.
At the premiere in September, one of Westgarth's childhood friends was present, and after the film told Westgarth that he hadn't really understood his friend's career until then. A similar situation occurred with executive producer and NHL alum, Kelly Chase. Westgarth has appreciated being able to attend multiple screenings, as each offers a new collection of former enforcers to reminisce about their playing days with, and Westgarth has gotten to know and like some of them.
Biased though he may be, Westgarth truly appreciates the story told in "Ice Guardians," and the breadth to which it extends.
"I think people will be kind of astounded at some of the thought and kind of the science to it, the pensiveness that people actually have going into fights, and doing the role - just the perspective that all these enforcers have had more recently and from years ago," articulates Westgarth, who is currently serving as the NHL's vice president of business development and international affairs. "There's a thread that runs through it all, but then there's also big differences between the personalities and between the eras."
"What I hope is that it pulls the curtain back on the personalities and people that are actually doing this job, as opposed to just painting it with one brush and saying those guys are that, they're animals that don't belong in the game," continues Westgarth. "The narrative is much more gray than these black and white issues that people have to either be for it or against it. It's clearly a much broader question than that."
If that isn't enough to compel someone to watch the movie, Scorgie insists that the movie isn't just for hockey fans.
"You don't have to like fighting or be a huge fan of these guys to appreciate this movie. If you are a documentary fan - definitely if you're a hockey fan you're going to love it - but if you like great stories about things you think you knew but you really didn't understand, this movie will shock you, move you, and you will thoroughly enjoy it," declares Scorgie, who revealed that even players were astounded at some of the statistics the movie brings light to. "It takes you on a roller coaster, there's humor in it, it's really funny, there are some really sad moments, then there are some 'wow, I've been watching the game for 40 years and never knew that.'"
On April 8, prior to the LA Kings taking on the Chicago Blackhawks at STAPLES Center, the Kings will host a special movie screening of 'Ice Guardians' to benefit the Kings Care Foundation. This unique event will take place at Regal LA Live: A Barco Innovation Center from 11:30 a.m. to 1:50 p.m., and will feature a post-movie Q&A with Scorgie, Westgarth, Luc Robitaille, Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene.
Tickets are limited; to purchase, visit LAKings.com/IceGuardians