Each February, eight long-time friends abandon the bustle of Vancouver's downtown and head north on Highway 97 toward 100-Mile House, in the south Cariboo region of the British Columbia wilderness. Their destination is a rustic waterfront cabin near Green Lake, B.C., best known as a trout-fishing and bird-watching haven for summer travelers.
The friends use the lake for an entirely different, but quintessentially Canadian, purpose: pond hockey.
The good feelings that come from the annual pilgrimage to play outdoor hockey are hard for its participants to describe. It's a bond shared among friends, punctuated by the camaraderie most easily expressed in jokes and jabs throughout the weekend. And don't forget the healthy portion of grueling, day-long hockey marathons.
"The original plan was we wanted to show how much fun it is to go up there with your best friends who all love to play hockey together -- it's a good dynamic that way. There's a lot more going on, but we wanted to keep it pretty fun and uplifting because that's what it's all about -- being with your friends." -- Brian Ceci
Shaun Finn, one of the original group who christened the rough patch of ice close to shore back in 2006, grows nostalgic for the sound of a skate blade crunching the freshly fallen snow. Brian Ceci, another of the hockey-crazed group, recalls the first day's ice, free of the skate marks and dents that riddle the average public rink.
"It's really indescribable," Finn said. "You just feel good, light."
It makes sense, then, that Finn and Ceci -- both filmmakers when they're not on the ice -- decided to chronicle the experience with a short documentary.
Make Hockey Happen -- a name, Ceci told NHL.com, that stems from the immense preparation and time investment that goes into the annual event -- has gone viral since being uploaded to YouTube on Oct. 2. It's been viewed more than 13,000 times, and the major media requests are piling up for this group of Vancouver 20-somethings.
"We just created it because we love hockey and we're artistic," Finn said, calling the unexpected reception "mind-blowing."
It all started in 2006, when a group of four friends blazed a trail into the Canadian wilderness, with hockey bags and shovels in tow. The destination: Steve MacIntosh's cabin overlooking Green Lake. The goal: Play as much hockey as possible. The problem: Bad ice.
"We probably shoveled out 30 square feet of ice, and it took us all day to do," Finn said. "The ice was chewed up and gross. Basically, we couldn't skate."
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The next year, the preparation and number of participants increased. This past winter, a total of eight players -- a carpenter, a cabinet-maker, a phone-company employee, a farmer and a student among them -- made the trek, using advanced flooding techniques, plow-pulling ATVs and months-long preparation to take full advantage of the lake's thick winter ice.
The teamwork used to prepare the ice surface, though, disappears when the puck finally drops on the first night as friendships cease and old rivalries. Despite a clear disparity of playing levels, Finn said the game flows smoothly.
Ceci, for one, was raised on the sport, with a father who skated at Cornell University and a brother currently playing at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C. Meanwhile, 2011 marked the first year Finn played anything more sophisticated than shinny. This past February, Duncan Joseph, a friend who never had played hockey and had little skating experience, joined the expedition. According to Finn, Joseph didn't miss a beat.
"We were nervous about how he would fit in, because we weren't going to stop playing hockey," Finn said, "but he fit in great. There was kind of this cool buzz for all of us because we got to see him enjoy the game we're all stoked on."
All the participants are certified hockey nuts and Canucks fans; cheering for any of Vancouver's fellow NHL teams would not be tolerated, according to Finn. The experience, both filmmakers agree, is unmatched in hockey.
"I definitely recommend people try it. For us, it's the most fun way to play hockey," Finn said. "It's not the best ice, but it's just so much fun getting back to the roots."
When Ceci joined the crew in 2010, he brought his camera along. During the course of the trip, he and Finn tossed around the idea of documenting the experience. There was no other way, they decided, to capture the essence of their return to wilderness hockey.
Ceci said he produced a "brief" video that trip, then hatched a plan for a full-fledged reflection in 2011. The result is the 5:37, tightly edited tribute to friendship, hockey and the roots of the game.
"The original plan was we wanted to show how much fun it is to go up there with your best friends who all love to play hockey together -- it's a good dynamic that way," Ceci said. "There's a lot more going on, but we wanted to keep it pretty fun and uplifting because that's what it's all about -- being with your friends."
The options are many as to where the group goes from here, but Ceci and Finn have immediate plans to shoot and edit another video in 2012.
"We had original intentions to follow more of a storyline, so we've considered the idea of going deeper with one or more of the guys," Ceci said. "Since we're all so passionate about it, we want to show where that comes from."
While the two have heard from many hockey fanatics in North America about the emotional nature of the video, Ceci said he most is excited by the reactions from far-flung fans.
"We've gotten one from Israel -- a country with, like, one rink in the entire country," he said. "We've heard from New Zealand, people telling us they want to start something like this."