Review: ‘Hockeyland’ scores hat trick: Minnesota, youth sports, captivating

"Hockeyland" is a new documentary filmed in Minnesota and in local theaters now that follows the Hermantown and Eveleth-Gilbert boys' hockey teams through the 2019-20 season.

"Hockeyland" movie poster
"Hockeyland" is a new documentary playing at the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter and the Sunset Cinema in Jenkins. The feature film follows the Hermantown and Eveleth-Gilbert boys' hockey teams through the 2019-20 season.
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BAXTER — Wayne Gretzky, I’m not.

That’s almost immediately obvious to anyone who has seen me skate (or attempt to skate). And the only experience I’ve had with hockey was floor hockey in gym class many, many years ago.

Unlike Gretzky, the legendary Canadian former ice hockey player, most sports I’ve attempted to play usually have me riding the bench, except tennis, where I played varsity in high school.

The closest I’ve come to net-scoring glory was a one-time Minnesota Wild game viewed from the nosebleed section of the Xcel Energy Center or at a few St. Cloud State University games.

But with “Hockeyland,” I vowed to change that and learn more about the sport or pastime. The new documentary is playing at Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter and Sunset Cinema in Jenkins.


A coach talks to his hockey players on the ice rink.
A coach talks to his hockey players on the ice rink.
Contributed / Maurice DT via

Minnesota may be “Twins territory” in the spring and baseball the season’s undisputed king. But the Midwest state and its residents seem all consumed by the wintertime activity of ice hockey.

Having never ever seen “The Mighty Ducks,” which was also filmed in Minnesota but centered around a fictional youth league hockey team, imagine how unprepared I was for “Hockeyland.”

“Hockeyland” was written and directed by Tommy Haines, a filmmaker with Northland Films who previously lived in Mountain Iron in St. Louis County, so he knows the subject of hockey well.

I’ve always subscribed to the belief that “truth is stranger than fiction” or at least it seems more entertaining, which is the reason I’m a big fan of true crime stories and documentaries.

Frank Lee
Frank Lee

The two-hour documentary “Hockeyland” introduces audiences to the Hermantown and the Eveleth-Gilbert boys' hockey teams and follows them through the 2019-20 season.

For the uninitiated to ice hockey like myself, I was surprised to learn the United States Hockey Hall of Fame Museum is located in Eveleth, a mining town with a population of under 4,000.

A reporter goes on to explain on the big screen to moviegoers the Eveleth-Gilbert boys hockey team was once an ice hockey powerhouse whose glory days may very well be behind them.

Hermantown’s boys hockey team in recent years, however, has become a formidable ice hockey team to contend with, dominating the Minnesota high school ice hockey league lately.


Adding more drama to the high-stakes showdown between a high school team on the rise and another on the decline, perhaps, is several of the players are seniors, who won’t be returning.

And it may be Eveleth-Gilbert’s last season as the Golden Bears, given talks of consolidating the school with nearby Virginia High School to become a new school, audiences learn from the film.

If all that was not fascinating enough, the filmmakers wisely choose to follow a few breakout stars during the season on the respective Hermantown and Eveleth-Gilbert teams to personalize the larger-than-life drama of competitive sports and championships.

For example, the run-ins with the law of an Eveleth-Gilbert hockey player are alluded to in the documentary as well as the NHL prospect of a Hermantown hockey player.

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“Hockeyland” could have delved deeper into the boys’ home lives or lives off the rink, and it does attempt to do that with some scenes into one family’s struggle with a matriarch’s cancer. Another on-screen example is a coach’s existential crisis as to whether to continue coaching.

There are the inevitable matchups shown in “Hockeyland” between the Eveleth-Gilbert Golden Bears and the Hermantown Hawks where there is bound to be a winning and a losing team.

In such a highly competitive sport ingrained in Minnesota culture, as the documentary depicts, emotions run high, rivalries go deep and feelings are worn on jersey sleeves for all to see.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .

I cover arts and entertainment, and write feature stories, for the Brainerd Dispatch newspaper. As a professional journalist with years of experience, I have won awards for my fact-based reporting. And my articles have also appeared in other publications, including USA Today. 📰
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