It’s a full of action, drama, passion — and the fairy tale ending is now within sight.
For the past six months, a documentary film crew has been following the Bentley Generals on their journey to the Allan Cup, the coveted grail of Canadian senior hockey.
This week, the Generals — with cameramen in tow — travelled to Steinbach, Man., to bring home the trophy that has eluded them in three Allan Cup appearances dating back to 2004.
Producer-director Eppo Eerkes gambled big on the Generals’ success this season.
There have been some close calls along the way, but his risks are bearing fruit.
With two commanding wins in Steinbach already behind them, the Generals need just two more victories to bring the Allan Cup home to Central Alberta.
“(Going to the Allan Cup) was something I put all my money on and something I told the broadcasters,” said Eerkes. “That Stony Plain series nearly killed me. For it to go seven games was killing us and we were sitting around saying ‘Oh, this can’t be happening.’ ”
Realizing the TV potential in the Generals’ story, Eerkes began pitching the project in 2006, but it wasn’t until 2008 that he got the go-ahead from CTV.
The Pounce TV crew, based in Bragg Creek, headed for Bentley and dove into production. They spent about a week with the team back in November, getting to know the guys and identifying the most film-friendly personalities.
But the Generals project suffered a near-fatal blow early on when budget issues at CTV forced the broadcaster to renege on its funding commitment.
“It was devastating for us,” Eerkes said. “We just shot seven days of quality stuff and now you’re telling me it’s not going to happen?”
The Pounce crew started fishing for new backers. They got nibbles from Access Television and the Saskatchewan Cable Network (SCN), but the big bite came from TV Ontario (TVO), which boasts about 2.2 million viewers. So far, SCN and TVO have agreed to a deal, but Access has yet to commit.
“The making of this show has been a lot like the story of the Bentley Generals,” Eerkes said. “Making it happen has been a real Cinderella story of its own.”
Titled Blood, Sweat and Beers, the documentary tells a story of sacrifices made by players and their families.
“People are going to see players who’ve given up so much that it brings them to tears,” said Eerkes. “To win that Allan Cup means so much to them, they’d give up everything but their family to get it.”
An abundance of powerful personality in the Generals organization has already guaranteed a successful product, said Eerkes. The story of the Beagle family will be a big part of the documentary. Kevin Smyth and Joe Vandermeer fill the roles of former pros, while ex-NHL player-coach Brian Sutter provides plenty of colour in his dressing-room speeches.
“He doesn’t care whether the camera is on or not. He is who he is and he’s not going to change for us,” said Eerkes. “When he closes that locker room door, that becomes a sacred place and you don’t mess with him on that. We take a camera and leave it in the room and walk away. That’s where we’ve got some of the real gold.”
Win or lose, the film crew will stick with the Generals through the rest of their Allan Cup run, then follow them home to Central Alberta for some followup with the community.
“The hope is that they win and we can be there for a big parade,” he said.
Following production, Eerkes will be holed up in the editing room for a few weeks. He plans to have a rough cut finished by the end of May and expects the one-hour documentary will air sometime this fall.
With so much strong content already captured, Eerkes says he’d like to explore the possibility of making the documentary into an hour-and-a-half, feature-length film.
“We’d also like to send it off to some festivals,” he said. “I really see this becoming the next Boys on the Bus — kind of that and Slapshot combined.”