'Hockeyland' movie goes inside Hermantown, Eveleth-Gilbert teams

Northland Films followed the high school boys' hockey teams through a plot-heavy season and launched a Kickstarter to put finishing touches on the film.

"Hockeyland" considers the changing scene of the Eveleth-Gilbert hockey program. (Photo submitted by Northland Films)

EVELETH, Minn. -- Eveleth-Gilbert is a storied high school hockey program with a date to merge with a rival squad and, during the 2019-20 season, a roster thick with seniors. That same season, Hermantown High School was coming off a Minnesota State High School tournament blow and carrying an experienced roster that included Mr. Hockey candidate-turned-winner-turned Bulldog Blake Biondi.

“Hockeyland,” a documentary by filmmakers who have seemingly made the sport their muse, follows both of the northern Minnesota teams through a season that begins with the promise of big plot lines. The film is in post-production, and its makers, Northland Films, recently launched a $45,000 Kickstarter campaign to raise money for it. Early this week, they were more than halfway to the goal.

“We’ve been looking forward to sharing the process with the public for a while,” said JT Haines, part of a trio of filmmakers that includes his brother Tommy Haines and Andrew Sherburne.

The Haines brothers grew up in Mountain Iron and played hockey until their family moved to Rosemount, Minn. Since then, according to Haines, they’ve been drawn to its lore.


"Hockeyland," a new movie by local filmmakers, recently launched a Kickstarter campaign. (Photo submitted by Northland Films)

“These are old, storied schools where things are changing right out from under people right now,” he said. “There’s all this history and tradition and nostalgia — in a positive sense — that we feel we need to document.”

“Hockeyland” offers a close-up look at the Hawks and the Golden Bears — from the locker rooms, to games, to the passenger seat of a player’s car. The crew dug in deep with the Biondi and Dowd families in Hermantown and Nathan Tassoni, Will Troutwine and Elliot Van Orsdel from Eveleth-Gilbert.

Iron Range journalist Aaron Brown offers insight to the region, and Bob Swanstrom, known as Mr. Hermantown, does the same for the Hawks.

For some of the players, this included a trip to the state tournament — which ended just as Minnesota was closing to contain the spread of COVID-19.

“I’m not sure there is a precedent for that level of access,” Haines said — at least for a film crew.

The filmmakers are centered on sound now, with a full score from composers Brooke Blair and Will Blair, and sound mix by Steve Boeddeker of Skywalker Sound (“Black Panther”).


'Hockeyland," a new movie by Northland Films, covers the 2019-20 high school boys' hockey season for Eveleth-Gilbert and Hermantown. (Photo submitted by Northland Films)

Haines said the crew will be submitting "Hockeyland" to festivals this year and are shooting for a local screening in the fall.

“Hockeyland” is the third of a trilogy of hockey movies by Northland Films. “Pond Hockey,” released in 2008, covered the first U.S. Pond Hockey Championships and included interviews with Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby and Neal Broten. John Buccigross of ESPN called it “the best and purest hockey movie ever.” It was an official selection for the Free Range Film Festival in Wrenshall. It’s available for streaming on Amazon .

Their second hockey movie, “Forgotten Miracle” (2010), is about the United States’ win at the 1960 Winter Olympics — an undefeated run.

Off topic, Northland Films’ “Saving Brinton” (2017) is about an eclectic Iowa-based collector who finds a buried treasure of moving pictures.

It opened at AFI Doc Film Festival and earned kudos from critics like Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post, who called it one of the best movies of the year. The Smithsonian called it “enchanting.” Wesley Morris of the New York Times credited the filmmakers with their approach to the central figure.

“The average documentary would gawk. This one reclassifies,” he said.

Christa Lawler is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.
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