I grew up in the cold wintery town of Winnipeg. Most nights I’d spend tending the outdoor nets at the Garden City hockey rink as freezing winds whisked by me trying to tear off my appendages. If you’ve ever played hockey on outdoor rinks or lived in a small down that breathes the game, Flin Flon: A Hockey Town is a documentary you need to see.
For those of you who have never heard of Flin Flon as it’s rarely if ever mentioned on Canadian or American television. Flin Flon is a small town in Northern Manitoba who’s claim to fame is its junior hockey team The Filn Flon Bombers. Perhaps the most celebrated individual to ever come from the small town is NHL star of yesteryear, Bobby Clarke. Many believe he was responsible for putting Flin Flon on the map.
The documentary begins with some interesting factoids about the small town and are introduced to a few of the residents. The town’s name is taken from the lead character in a 1905 paperback novel, The Sunless City by J. E. Preston Muddock. Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin piloted a submarine into a bottomless lake where he sailed through a hole lined with gold to enter a strange underground world. A copy of the book was allegedly found and read by prospector Tom Creighton. When Tom Creighton discovered a high-grade exposure of copper, he thought of the book and called it Flin Flon’s mine, and the town that developed around the mine adopted the name.
There’s definitely a certain beauty to watching the pride the citizens take in their town. At the same time the documentary is able to juxtapose from the exterior shots of the sleepy small town to the fast paced action on the rink where the entire town watches the Bombers play an opponent. The game is filled with fights and later the viewer is given access into the team sanctuary- the dressing room. The interviews with the players don’t seem rehearsed. Most of these players sounds like they are from small towns and have had limited education. Their days are made up of working odd jobs around the city like cutting wood, then practicing. However there’s no doubt they are local celebrities. Their hard work and passion is more than appreciated by their fans.
The real premise of this documentary is why do so many of these players leave home at 14, 15 or 16 to play junior hockey with the Bombers? Will they be the next Clarke or Leach? Not likely. Some of them want to follow in their fathers’ footsteps while others believe they have a shot at the big time. Most of the players miss out on their teenage family years. Instead they are billeted into homes in Flin Flon and the team becomes their family.
For the players who are 19 and 20 they were asked what’s next? For most of them their hockey career is over. This was their adventure. This was their 15 minutes as Andy Warhol would say. Some players talked about going back to school and learning a trade. Others spoke about taking a year off and seeing the world while earning money from odd jobs.
For this reviewer perhaps the saddest part about this documentary is that the majority of these guys won’t go back to school. They’ll end up back in their small towns working at the local mill, mine or whatever the main industry happens to be. The next 40 years of their lives will be spent raising a family, working at the steel mill and remembering the great times they had with all their teammates playing in a little town called Flin Flon.