Great Read

Hockey tradition at Sundance fest is the reel deal

John Ondrasik is holding the Stanley Cup.

The pop-rock musician has just finished coaching a team to a big hockey win and is walking across the ice to deliver sports' most famous trophy, his shoes stepping tentatively toward a far face-off circle.

OK, so it isn't the actual Stanley Cup. And "coaching" may be a strong word: Ondrasik mostly stood, silent, behind a bench as his team embarked on face-offs and line changes. When your band is known as Five for Fighting — the of course sort-of-stiff penalty that players receive for throwing punches at faces instead of pucks at nets — offensive strategy isn't going to be a strong suit.

Still, Ondrasik's squad has just won the exhibition game at the Sundance Film Festival for the charity Echoes of Hope, one of the stranger rites of the already oddball movie gathering that just wound down in the mountains of Utah.

As incongruous as it can seem to see a group of jocks pad up in briny locker rooms at a film festival, there is something quintessentially Sundance about the game. After all, like the red carpets and packed screening rooms of the festival, it too is filled with a spirit of joyous chaos and a mixture of high-end and, er, not-so-high-end talent. Festival founder Robert Redford himself couldn't have designed it any better.

The game is actually the creation of retired Kings winger Luc Robitaille, his wife, Stacia, and the film executive Tom Bernard. They founded it to benefit the Robitailles' foster-child charity — and because Bernard didn't want to go 10 days at the festival without playing hockey.

So at an ice rink barely a mile from the festival's flagship theater — where movies like "Boyhood" and this year's breakout, "Brooklyn," are shown for the first time, at times setting off bidding wars that can reach $10 million or more — hockey veterans lace up their skates with people more adept at climbing the stairs to a theater stage than hopping over the sideboards.

If you at some point in your life hoped to see an NHL great make a centering feed to the star of "Austin & Ally" (Ross Lynch), this would be your chance. If you ever wanted to watch the rapper Matisyahu take a slap shot off an NHL defender's shin guard in the middle of Mormon country, ditto for that too.

Lending the proceedings a distinctly high-cinema feel is the deft stickhandling of one Steven McQueen — the actor from "The Vampire Diaries," that is.


Though celebrity games can be a hodgepodge affair, Luc and Stacia Robitaille take this seriously. They spend hours drafting the teams at their Santa Monica home and then assemble their squad, in a manner that can't help evoking Sundance programmers combing through submissions to fill their high-profile slots.

"I win most years. But she won last year. I definitely remember that," Luc says. He gave Stacia the first pick; she went with Hall of Famer Rob Blake. He went with Sabres and Islanders great Pierre Turgeon. (Many of the players, like Blake, are affiliated with the Kings, and/or play in a weekly game Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer holds in El Segundo.)

Today, Turgeon teammates include former "Smallville" star Michael Rosenbaum, two-fifths of the teeny-bopper band R5, and Bernard, known for releasing decidedly un-NHL films such as "Amour" and "Leviathan."

Team Stacia, meanwhile, has former hockey greats Larry Murphy and Ray Whitney, ex-"Beverly Hills 90210" pinup Jason Priestley, Matisyahu and one more fifth of R5. She also enlists the coaching help of the actress Andie MacDowell and the singer Taylor Dayne.

In the first period, Whitney gains the zone, and Priestley is open on the right side of the crease. The former NHL-er spots the former Brandon Walsh and sends him a crisp feed. The goalie can't react quickly enough, and Priestley has the puck on his stick with a wide open net, but whiffs on the shot. If she'd been watching, Andrea Zuckerman would have shaken her head.

From the bench — or, rather, on the bench — Dayne implores her team, vocally, and conveys her thoughts on officiating to the refs, more vocally. Love does not seem to be leading her back.

"I'm from Long Island," she says a moment later. "We do hockey differently there."


By the end of the first period, Team Luc, with little help from Ondrasik, has started heaping on the goals the way critics at this festival pile on the screenings. In the locker room, Rosenbaum gives a pep talk, all those years of performing at auditions coming in handy.

In the other locker room, Stacia offers some coaching advice that might be described as of the minimalist school. "We cannot let Luc win. We cannot. Shoot, shoot, shoot."

Privately, she says the issue might be too much of her husband. "The problem is Luc is always on the ice. Now, how is that fair?"

Dayne, meanwhile, offers an insight unlikely to make it on to the eraseboard of Kings Coach Darryl Sutter. "I think our problem is that a lot of our guys were out until 4 a.m."

The Sundance scrum has had its share of colorful over the years. One year, Cuba Gooding Jr. turned up to play and did a striptease instead. No one is quite sure how many goals were scored during his performance.

This year, the high jinks come in the form of a Nerf football, which has found its way onto the ice at the start of the second period. An impromptu game of team handball breaks out as players pass it back and forth.

A few minutes later, a two-on-one develops, with Bernard, 63, the lone defender back. The odd-man-rush doesn't produce a goal, thanks to Bernard's defense, which might generously be called effective by presence more than tactic.

From the bench, Gary Springer, a Hollywood publicist wearing a vintage Soviet Union jersey, laughs. "They're not going to do anything to screw up him buying their movie."


Beyond the melees that break out among people outside Sundance's exclusive parties, there actually isn't a lot of crossover between hockey and the festival. Priestley says he won't make the trip down the road to Sundance unless he has a meeting or movie to attend to. And the NHL-ers are more likely to hoof it to a Park City bar than a screening.

Still, Matisyahu is often in town performing or deejaying at a film after-party. "I try not to stay too long. You come in one state, and you leave in another state," he says.

But movies and hockey collide in other ways. This year, Bernard has screened to the players "Red Army," his company's new release about Slava Fetisov and the Soviet hockey system.

"Can we get a movie like that to screen for the guys every year, Tommy?" Luc asks Bernard in the locker room. "Something we're going to like?"

Bernard shrugs, smiles a movie veteran's smile and says, "I'll try." Good hockey documentaries, he knows, are as common as a five-on-three power play.


Team Luc remains up by a few goals as the minutes start to tick by in the third period. But then members of Stacia's squad, including Matisyahu, find the back of the net a few times, and they're within one.

The atmosphere gets a little more charged. Team Luc player Rosenbaum tells teammate Derek Armstrong, a motormouth former NHL-er known for his penalty minutes as much as his scoring, that he doesn't like the way he was hit by Sean O'Donnell, the 43-year-old former Kings defenseman.

"I want to lay that kid out so bad," Armstrong replies.

Luc talks to his team, doing his best impersonation of Herb Brooks. Soon his cohorts have lit the lamp a few more times. The lead is safe. "I can smell the Cup," Robitaille says with a slight smirk, loud enough for his wife to hear. She pretends not to.

With about two minutes left, the teams call timeout, and the Hollywood types come to the bench; this will be an NHL-only finale. The entertainers have acquitted themselves nicely, but when they take a seat, the pace shifts noticeably; if the mixed squad is dial-up, this is Google Fiber.

In fairness, it's unlikely that Larry Murphy could master a five-page TV monologue, either.

Then the game ends, and Ondrasik is holding the fake Stanley Cup with the zeal of 2012-era Dustin Brown.

In the locker room, Priestley and his teammates hang their heads. "I'm waiving my no-trade clause," David Boreanaz, known for "Bones" and "Buffy," says dryly from the losing locker room.

Luc walks into the winning locker room. "It wasn't even close, boys," he says. Then he adds, "Have fun and enjoy the Stanley Cup. Just be careful with the press," a pitch-perfect parody of a real Stanley Cup team's locker-room admonitions. Back in the losing locker room, he gives a playful slap to McQueen, who is also his stepson.

The young David Henrie, an actor from "How I Met Your Mother" and a surprisingly fast skater, takes a drink from the fake Stanley Cup. The tough-talking Armstrong spots Dayne, who has wandered past the locker room. "Taylor, Taylor," he says, running after her. "A selfie?"

Bernard, often with an executive's stressed-out look at a film festival, has a beatific smile as he stands by his locker. He is asked where his business partner, the longtime executive Michael Barker, might be at the moment.

"I don't know," he says. "Probably watching a bad movie."

Twitter: @ZeitchikLAT

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