Plot: Whenever the sport of hockey is discussed, sooner or later the topic of fights is bound to come up. The brawls on the ice seem to get the crowds more fired up than even goals, as these rugged, tough athletes battle it out. In recent years, the league has spun up new rules to limit fights and while some praise the decisions, others feel like it has caused some old problems to resurface. In Ice Guardians, we learn about the enforcers, the toughest guys on the ice and the ones who would step up to protect their teammates from the rival squads. If a finesse player was hassled or given a cheap shot, the enforcer would deliver some payback to make sure the other team would think twice before trying it again. In the wake of enforcers being diminished, star players have suffered more injuries than ever before, leaving some to wonder if the absence of the enforcers has caused more harm than good.
Entertainment Value: I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of hockey, but I loved Ice Guardians and I was hooked in from start to finish. That is a sure sign that this is a well made, interesting documentary, as even those who aren’t hockey super fans can likely be engrossed and entertained here. Of course, a little knowledge of the sport doesn’t hurt, but at the same, Ice Guardians is able to provide the core information you need and does so in skilled fashion. So even in the instances where time is taken to explain some basics, the movie is able to do so without slowing the pace or getting bogged down in too much data, which is not a simple balance to achieve. The piece explores all aspects of the role of the enforcer, from how the position began and evolved, rule changes that impacted the enforcers, legacy of the players, some psychology behind the role, and even the personal side of these incredible warriors. I was impressed how many facets were covered here, with more than solid depth, but it never feels overwhelming or clinical, quite the opposite. In addition to all the historical information found here, we also get to see the personalities and stories of these men, told by themselves, their fans, and even their fellow enforcers. This allows so much personality and connection to be present, which enhances the entire experience.
Ice Guardians has a slick, polished presentation, one that has a kinetic feel that ensures you’re never bored for a second. That said, the approach isn’t a rushed one, it just has a more active rather than clinical slant. Most of the piece is interviews with a wealth of participants, with a number of enforcers and other players given the lion’s share of time, while fans, historians, and other experts are also well represented. I appreciate that the players themselves hold most of the screen time, as these first hand accounts are invaluable to the experience, since these men have lived the stories and know exactly the risk & reward of the sport. I especially enjoyed hearing the enforcers talk about each other and the battles waged, while also conveying a deep respect and compassion for each other, a powerful element. The experts provide a historical examination and some psychological aspects, which add another dimension to the discussion and even doctors weigh in on some of the concerns. In short, this is an engaging, well crafted look at some of the toughest athletes to ever compete and not only their legacy in the sport, but an exploration of the impact of their absence. If you like hockey, this is a must see, but anyone who appreciates a good documentary should watch Ice Guardians.