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'Hockey 24' documentary chronicles routines, rituals of game

'A film by Canada' premiering Sunday shares stories, footage that binds nation

by William Douglas @WDouglasNHL / Staff Writer

The sights and sounds of hockey, absent since the 2019-20 NHL season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, will return through a televised documentary that chronicles 24 hours of the game in Canada.

"Hockey 24," which premieres Sunday at 7 p.m. and airs at 11:30 p.m. ET on Sportsnet and Sportsnet NOW, shows how the game is the tie that binds a nation from small backyard rinks to shinny on frozen ponds to big games in big arenas.

"As tough as times are right now, with social distancing, I think this documentary can be a uniting front and bring that hockey community back together," said Natalie Spooner, who won a gold medal for Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and silver at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. "We've seen it in the past how the hockey community has overcome many obstacles, whether it's deaths or pandemics. [The documentary] can give us that hope for when this is over, we can go back to playing hockey and having that fun."

"Hockey 24," presented by Scotiabank, is rightfully billed as "a film by Canada." Scotiabank asked Canadians to submit videos and photos of their hockey activity during the 24 hours of November 17, 2019, and upload them to a website. The amateur footage is supplemented by scenes shot by 25 film crews and award-winning filmmakers.

The documentary features some familiar faces, including retired NHL players Lanny McDonald and Darcy Tucker, and Spooner, who traveled to Churchill, Manitoba to play on an outdoor rink the community built after the only indoor rink broke down.

"They put up boards, brought in this big almost, like, tractor trailer that people would us to go up and see the polar bears on," Spooner said. "They turned it into a change room. It was so raw, but it felt so Canadian to be out on that ice."

The film, produced by The Mark Agency in association with Sportsnet, the NHL and Hot Docs, captures the routines and rituals of the game, from getting kids up at dawn to practice or play to postgame hot chocolates.

"You're going to see many different stories in this documentary that are steeped in traditions and people who are working their rear ends off for their kids to enjoy the great game of hockey," said Tucker, who scored 476 points (215 goals, 261 assists) in 947 games for the Montreal Canadiens, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs and Colorado Avalanche. "You'll have to bring out your popcorn, but you'll have to bring out a few tissues along the way as well. I know my wife, every time she gets a snippet of what's going in the documentary, she has a tear in her eye."

The film also features stories of courageousness and overcoming adversity. Quinn Kinsella, a member of Ontario's Flamborough Sabres youth hockey team, plays despite having cystic fibrosis, a genetic life-threatening disorder that damages the lungs and digestive system.

Hayes Steinberg, chief creative officer of The Mark and Hockey 24's executive producer, said his goal was to make a film that was representative of all Canadians.

"We had thousands of Canadians who submitted film, submitted their stories, and we had no idea of what we were going to get," he said. "There was the challenge of taking all of that and editing it all together to get that seamless narrative that would give you the feeling we want to give you."

That feeling, Steinberg said, is one of a community united by hockey.

"As Canadians, we realize [hockey] brings me closer to my neighbor, it brings me closer to my father, it brings me closer to my sister, it brings me closer to the group of friends I grew up with," he said. "It really does bind us as a nation. I want that message to come out, especially now, especially as we've been forced to be apart from each other physically, we really realize just how important this binding element is in our society."

"Hockey 24" was originally supposed to premiere at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto this month. The producers were considering a change in plan, then the festival was postponed because of the pandemic.

It was decided to televise "Hockey 24" and air it on the Hot Docs website May 25 to June 30. A version of the documentary with French subtitles airs on TVA Sports and TVA Sports direct at 9 p.m. ET on May 31. 

"We realized that this time of year is usually the time we're all usually gearing up for the playoffs," Steinberg said. "We also realized that without hockey, and without any real answer when hockey is coming back, giving our country a little taste of everything they love would be the right time to bring this to our country."

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