November 17, 2022

KEMPFF | Living in Hockeyland: On the Documentary and Cornell

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“It’s too cold out here. It’s too cold in Minnesota.” 

You’ve heard that a thousand times, right? Except the place isn’t usually the upper Midwest, but the arctic tundra of an Ivy League school in Upstate New York. 

Hockeyland, a new documentary that bills itself as the hockey version of Friday Night Lights, recently became available for streaming. Instead of the sweltering gridiron of Texas high school football, we’re introduced to the equally fanatic hockey culture that persists in Northern Minnesota. 

Cornellians unfamiliar with hockey might scratch their head at how crazy people go over the sport. This documentary will change that. It paints hockey in its grittiest and most honest form, something that is often missing when you see the NHL on TV.

Like the small communities featured in the film, hockey is the only sport in town at Cornell. Compare the crowds at Cornell’s homecoming football game to a preseason hockey game and you can clearly see the importance of hockey here. It’s an especially relevant film that all Cornellians should watch, as it will give you a better appreciation for the game and those who play it. 

Much like the story from which Hockeyland is inspired, there’s a lot more at play than simply hockey. The setting is the Iron Range, a region in Northern Minnesota that has been in economic jeopardy for decades. Once the base of a thriving mining industry, the area has seen jobs and people disappearing for many years. 

The documentary follows two parallel teams, one of which is a storied high school team on the rocks. Following this season the high school, Eveleth-Gilbert, will be merged with a neighbor. It’s the result of decades of economic decline in the small town, lending an air of urgency to the season.

One thing is at the center of all of these players’ lives: hockey. They eat, breathe and sleep it. And it’s easy to see why. The documentary portrays an area of the country frigidly cold, with shots of the landscape that would put weather-complaining Cornellians to shame.

But more than that, the documentary shows some of the special sides of the game. There’s camaraderie, a true brand of brothers fighting the bullies from across the state. The region of Minnesota is the home of some of the best hockey players in the country, and the level of play is impressive. Watching these kids battle it out week after week will get you inspired to head to Lynah on a Friday night. 

The real focus of the documentary, however, is the players from both teams who we get to know in-depth. At first they seem to hit archetypes, such as the rising national star dealing with the future or the lowkey player who’s a secret genius. The documentary shines, however, by painting a more in-depth picture of these players’ personal lives.

On a larger scale, the documentary depicts a community far different than the one we inhabit. Cornell is a pinnacle of privilege, a member of an organization that’s code for American elitism. Understanding the sport of hockey in a different setting may help Cornellians learn about the rest of America. 

The two teams documented tell different, but all too familiar economic stories. Unlike the struggling Eveleth, rival Hermantown is often displayed through its gleaming ice rink. It’s a town facing very different economic prospects, speaking to the growing economic disparity between towns across the nation.

As someone from “fly-over country,” it’s clear that most people at Cornell struggle to understand the economic changes occurring between the coasts. The documentary paints a compelling picture of what’s been occurring economically through the lens of sport. 

You can find Hockeyland streaming on Amazon Prime, as well as a few other streaming websites. If you’re looking for something to do before heading to Lynah for a Friday night game, I’d recommend watching it. It will give you a greater appreciation for the sport you are about to watch and those who play it — including our Big Red. 

Brendan Kempff is a senior in the Hotel School. He can be reached at [email protected] Slope Side runs every other Thursday this semester.