SPOILER ALERT: Minnesota documentary about life for high school boys pursuing their dreams playing hockey 

Taylor Hess, Reporter

 In a community built on supporting, playing, and cheering for hockey, it was no surprise that the documentary, Hockeyland, was showcased in Grand Forks theaters. For context, this documentary depicts the rivalry between two Iron Range high school hockey teams, Hermantown and Eveleth, and their attempts to make it to the highly coveted Minnesota State Tournament. This opportunity for each team is extensively pursued thanks to scouts attending, publicity events, and the chance to play on the biggest hockey stage in Minnesota many little boys only dream of.   

It is no secret Minnesota is the state of hockey producing more players on small rinks up to the NHL than any other state. What Texas has with football; Minnesota has with hockey. The documentary opens with the vast, tundra-like Iron Range in northern Minnesota setting the stage. We are then introduced to the seniors on both sides of the coin. Hermantown is a prominent dynasty having 13 all-time state appearances and two championships to their name. Eveleth, however, has a rich history. With 15 state appearances and six titles, they have not returned to the state tournament since 1998. Many of our parents recognize both teams as hockey monoliths from their time. Each unit is fighting for this opportunity, and many of these boys believe if they do not get their chance at a hockey career, they will be left to work hard labor on the Iron Range mirroring many of their parents. Their lives are put on display: work, family, tumultuous injuries, triumphs, and eventual disappointment.  

Throughout the movie, the rivalry between the two teams reveals that they are alike in many ways such as, they go to small schools, they have health issues that hinder their ability to play, their dreams, and their drive to play and win. Whichever way they are pitted against each other, it comes down to the way they play the game. At this point, we are also introduced to a young player’s mother who has cancer. It is an incredibly touching anecdote that tells the audience it is more than just hockey and easy-going experiences in these boys’ lives.  

To end the rivalry, Hermantown bests Eveleth in the section final game at the highly recognizable AMSOIL Arena in Duluth, MN. Watching each team face their coach and locker room after that final buzzer was electrifying and disheartening all at the same time. The juxtaposition is a heart-wrenching look at the reality of high school sports. Some boys stepped off the ice for the final time, and some boys achieved a lifelong dream of playing at the highest level of high school hockey. The tears they cry, either from joy or sorrow, echo a feeling many high school athletes have felt. It is a touching moment illustrating what it means to play high school hockey in Minnesota. This section final game is only the first stepping stone towards the State Tournament. 

The thought of playing in the Minnesota High School Hockey State Tournament is where dreams are born. Each year, boys go to be treated as high school royalty; the hotel stay, TV appearances, press conferences, the extensive amount of clothing and merchandise, the stadium reaching capacity, roaring crowds, and their chance to forever etch their names on that trophy. It is where players receive lifelong recognition and offers to continue their careers beyond high school. It is no shock to Minnesotans watching this documentary how hard each boy wants this. It creates an electric environment, feeling the sheer willpower they exude.   

Hermantown fell to Mahtomedi, 2 to 3 in overtime during the final state game. The dramatics leading up to this moment shot adrenaline throughout my body even when I knew the outcome. It was power, grit, and skill showcased in each second that passed. It was the “end-all-be-all” moment we as viewers had been waiting for, and it absolutely delivered. The point of clarity was now seeing both teams, Hermantown and Eveleth, lose. They both experienced triumphs and losses at different points in their season and finally they are level with each other.  

It was incredibly hard-hitting to watch considering I personally managed my hometown hockey team that faced Hermantown in this documentary taking place in 2020. It can be simple to dehumanize a team that seems to have it all. I remember the pure revenge we felt going into the quarterfinals, eventually falling 7-1. Seeing these same men, I once watched living their lives and having the same issues we had seemed unfathomable. The quiet bus rides to and from games, windows frosted over, and heads down eerily reminded me of my four years managing high school boys’ hockey. For many in Minnesota, this documentary humanized what is thought to be a “larger than life” hockey team down to a group of high school boys pursuing their dreams like we all are. 

Taylor Hess is a Dakota Student General Reporter. She can be reached at [email protected].