'Ice Guardians' doc goes in-depth on hockey's enforcer role (Puck Daddy Interview)

Photo of Kevin Westgarth provided by Adam Scorgie

Eight years into his passion project, Adam Scorgie’s enthusiasm hasn’t waned.

Ask him about “Ice Guardians”, his documentary about hockey enforcers, and words fly from his mouth at a hyper and energetic pace. The Edmonton-based documentary filmmaker isn’t a hockey fan because of hockey.

He’s a hockey fan because of the fights. And he feels that the guys who come to fisticuffs in games get an unfair rap.

Why is it unfair? Because in Scorgie’s eyes, nobody has done a deep, introspective look at the position … yet. For his film he’s talked to behavior specialists, referees, linesmen, hockey historians, superstars and of course, the enforcers themselves. 

Though he’s a supporter of the enforcer role, this isn’t a piece glorifying it. He’s a filmmaker before he’s a fan and he wants to show a true and honest representation of the position.

“That’s the part all the guys have been attracted to us with this project is, ‘Finally you’re not trying to pick or choose a side and not trying to get rules changed. You’re just trying to tell our story,’” said Scorgie the film’s co-creator/producer.

Scorgie is currently finishing up the film, and is hoping to take a festival run with it during the spring of 2016. Here is the link.

There are a few notes that make his film interesting, beyond his comprehensive view.

For one, he talked to superstar Hall of Fame-type players like Jarome Iginla and Brett Hull about the position.

Also, he has tape of enforcer Derek Boogaard, who died in 2011 from a drug overdose. Boogaard’s brain has since been found to have the degenerative brain disease CTE, which is linked to concussions.

“I had become good friends with Boogie before he passed,” Scorgie said. “We have the last really well-read interview with Boogie before he died.”

We talked with Scorgie about his project, what he’s trying to accomplish and how it all came together.

Q: I saw you have some tape of Derek Boogaard in the film …

SCORGIE: I had become good friends with Boogie before he passed. We have the last really well-read, in-depth interview with Boogie before he died. I want to say it’s about six months after the demo was done. It was shortly after that when he passed. I was supposed to meet him in California like a month before he passed. We were supposed to go down there and hang out with him and his brother. 

We didn’t hang out a lot in person, but we’d text each other back and forth two or three times per-week.

Have you ever thought of the importance of this?

I mean, it’s a weird thing because I really thought Boogaard and I, with the relationship we seemed to be building that we would have been friends with a long time.

I am with most of these guys now. With Eric Godard, I ‘ve been to his wedding, he’s been to my wedding, we talk about each other’s kids. We’re friends now from the process of trying to put this together.

When he passed, his parents were asking for footage. I’m not one of those producers that’s like ‘I own the footage.’ They want to use it for something and I gave it to them.

It’s a tragedy what happened to Boogaard. It’s sad. But the addiction thing is something that isn’t directly connected to enforcing because it happens in all walks of life. We’ve done two drug films. We’ve interviewed some of the best addiction specialists in the world and there’s people who have never been in a fight in their lives or played a pro sport that suffer from drug addiction. It actually does a huge disservice to mental illness, depression and CTE by putting it all towards fighting.  

The leading addiction specialists in the world will tell you that it all comes from early childhood development. The brain develops addiction very, very early in life, the first five years when your brain starts creating synapses that later on become dependent. That’s why someone like me, I had my jaw broken before. I was given morphine and I didn’t even take it past the first day because I hated it. My body rejected it completely, when you give it to someone else, and now they’re hooked on morphine or opiates for the rest of their life or for a 10-year span. There wasn’t anything in the drug specifically that got one person hooked and the other person not. It’s the fact they had underlying issues that when they came into contact with that drug. That was their drug of choice and became their crutch.   

What started you on this project? How did it unfold?

It started a long time ago with my passion for hockey. I wasn’t a hockey fan. I played when I was younger and then I moved overseas and then … I lived in Singapore and Australia. I had fallen out of hockey. When I moved back to Canada I went to high school in Kelowna, and I went to high school with (enforcers) Scott Parker and Todd Fedoruk, that and their role in that culture, the enforcer, brought me back to hockey.

So after director Brett Harvey worked on our previous films, we were looking for something totally different. We wanted to get away from the pot stuff (Ed note: Scorgie has worked on two documentaries about drug policies. One is called “The Union: The Business Behind Getting High” and the other is called “Culture High.”) and we wanted to get away from the drug films.

I brought this idea to him and Brett was the one who honed it in and said, ‘this is how we can make it a feature.’ So we started examining and looking at it. Then when you look at the stories of these guys and how passionate they are and the sacrifices they make for their dream of playing in the NHL come through, it’s hard for anyone, when you look at that story, to not be interested in it.

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It’s what attracted me to the sport originally again. It was those guys and understanding the dynamics. I went to school with them, so I started to learn like, ‘Oh you do this to spark the team’ or ‘Protect superstars’ or ‘Influence morale.’ Ultimately what really made me fall in love was just the passion these guys have for the game. Whatever you’re passionate about in life, whether it’s sport or not, there’s going to be sacrifice to get there.

That’s why a lot of people don’t go for their passion jobs. They take the easy route and do something that pays well and is a secure job during a recession. That’s the part all the guys have been attracted to us with this project is, ‘Finally you’re not trying to pick or choose a side and not trying to get rules changed. You’re just trying to tell our story, being a small town kid wanting to be Wayne Gretzky and when given the opportunity realized once he hit the bigger levels, he wasn’t going to be Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux. His job was to take this physical role.’ 

They had the aggressive nature and that was their ticket and that was the one that always gets missed and why all these guys are like, ‘Finally, somebody is telling our story correctly’ because they feel nobody has done it justice in any movie or any doc before. 

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How will this be different than other past stories about fighting? 

One we’re much more in depth. Two, we have the trust of the guys, so they’re opening up to us in ways that others haven’t. Three, unlike a lot of the other ones that have just focused on the guys, we have a lot of superstars who have come and talked about it. Brett Hull said on camera, ‘If you’re the person who likes 741 of my goals, that’s because specifically my career was lengthened and I specifically was able to do that because I played with guys like Kelly Chase and Tony Twist. If you’re someone who likes watching goals? I had that ability because I was looked after by these two guys.’

Photo of Todd Fedoruk provided by Adam Scorgie
Photo of Todd Fedoruk provided by Adam Scorgie

What do you mean by more in-depth? Is it just the interviews? What else?

One of the big things is the trust. A lot of these guys have really not liked how they were treated in interviews, and they were really reclusive at the beginning because they really didn’t like how people … even when they’ve done an interview, they’ve done it in a way to push their agenda, which is either anti-fighting, or they want to get concussion headlines, or they want to do something else.

A lot of the players are really pissed off about that. They’re like, ‘Listen, I might have said that in a long-winded answer, but that’s not the way it came out.’ A lot of them were really guarded when we first started, but after they saw the questioning we went through and the way we really cared, and we’re just as passionate as they are about the film, they could feel it. They really started opening up. A lot of guys who wouldn’t do interviews, like Dave Brown, he had zero interest until Glen Cochrane called him and said, ‘They’re finally asking the right questions’ and the same thing with Dave Semenko. He had no interest in doing an interview until Clark Gillies called and said ‘These are the guys you want to do a project with.’

Who was your first interview?

First one we did, I think it was Eric Godard. He’s from the Okanagan Valley, which is where I was originally. We’ve been good buddies. Through him … Jarome Iginla trained at my boxing club. So I had long conversations about him and the direction and the story we were looking to tell. Once we had his name, it spiraled.

Now it’s at the point where so many of them are communicating with each other, we can almost do a series afterwards because everybody wants to sit down to talk with us, but we don’t have that much time, room or long enough film.

The hockey community is a much smaller world than people sometimes think. Once you’re trusted and respected in those circles, then it’s like the door just never closes. The best thing we did was the demo Brett put together. Once we had that available to send to people, they were like, ‘Wow, how do I become a part of this?’

And then we got Kelly Chase come on as a producer.

He’s the one who opened the door for Rick Tocchet, and Joey Kocur, and Brett Hull and Bobby Hull and all those guys to interview. He had the relationship and we built the trust factor with him to open up those contacts. 

Who else did you talk to for this film?

We’re talking to human behavior specialists and referees and the linesmen and historians as to how the role first came in and how it evolved over the years with the rule changes. Our goal is to try to make the most in depth story from beginning to end of why the enforcer started, why it evolved over the years and who these men were as individuals as trying to make their dreams come true of playing in the NHL

There’s that lawsuit from former players toward the NHL. Do you delve into this at all and CTE?

We haven’t gotten too much into the lawsuit because it’s not really the story we want to tell and I think the media is going to take their point of view on that anyway. The thing that’s really becoming apparent from the studies we’ve been researching and some of the specialists we’ve been talking to, is they’re seeing CTE in sports you don’t even think of, like soccer. What the specialists are saying is that most of it comes from the whiplash in the neck where concussions and problems are happening. Unless you’re willing to get rid of body checking or any physicality in all sports it has to be there. So I think it’s great people are aware of it and sports are taking the right steps to make sure players get the right recovery time and stuff they need, but I really think the media has done a great disservice of trying to scapegoat the enforcers as like the sole reason or the biggest problem there because there’s a few guys in that lawsuit who have never been in a fight in their life, and they’re claiming a concussion problem. It’s interesting to see even one of the guys in the film said, he’s been in over 500 fights and he’s had less concussions than Sidney Crosby.

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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