Back in 2018, I was paid $250 to play hockey. No, it wasn’t on a professional tryout contract with a minor league team, but rather for a television commercial. That said, they would recruit practically anyone who owned hockey gear — including me, a guy who had been playing for less than five years at the time.
A production company was shooting a commercial at one of the local rinks that I play at, and they needed 12 hockey players for it The manager at that rink emailed the captains of teams that played in their rec league about the commercial, which was that Friday; less than two days away.
One advantage of being a college teacher is that I never teach on Fridays, so that day was free for me, but not for most of my friends and colleagues who work Monday through Friday. Not only was I free, but most others were not, which increased my chances of being one of the 12 players in the commercial. Plus, the short notice would make it hard for people to get off of work.
Another aspect that helped my chances was that I was getting in touch with a casting agency, and not a hockey person. Naturally, a hockey person would try to get skaters who played at least some sort of respectable level, or at least one tier above “D League.”
But a casting agency who didn’t know much about hockey might be impressed with my “five years of recent hockey experience.” Sure, I was honest about being a rec league player. But I also played up the fact that I took an acting class in college, studied improvisational comedy for one year at The Second City, had ample experience in public speaking (as a teacher and podcast host, anyway) and had been an extra numerous times for TV shows and movies. I sent my info, along with a head shot and a photo of me in full hockey equipment — to prove that I could “look the part” — to the casting agency.
Later that day, I got a call from a woman with the casting agency.
“I have a few questions for you,” she said.
“Sure thing! Ask away!” I said, hoping that she wouldn’t ask me what NHL team I used to play for, or how many goals I scored last season. (Coincidentally, the answer is “none” for both of those questions.)
“Do you own your own hockey equipment?” she asked.
“…yes, I do” I replied, confused that she’d ask that question, but also relieved that the first question was such an easy one.
She continued: “Can you move around on the ice comfortably? Like, get from one point to another?”
I was stunned that the bar was so low for being a hockey player for this commercial.
“Oh, yeah!” I said, enthusiastically. “I can skate forwards and backwards. Do turns, and crossovers and stop.”
“OK, good,” she confirmed.
“I’ve also studied a little acting. I know this isn’t a speaking part, but I’m comfortable around film crews and such.”
“Great! We’ll see you on Friday.”
The casting agency also wanted a crowd of people watching us play hockey, so I told my sister, and she was also hired as an extra to sit in the stands.
I got to the rink around 6:45 a.m. that Friday morning.
The first thing I had to do was toss my sticks in a pile to be “wrapped.” The film crew had to cover up any brand logos. If your stick was mainly black, they would cover the brand logos with black electrical tape. But if your stick was a different color, they would wrap your entire stick with a custom sticker that covered all four sides of the shaft. The sticker also had a fake company name on them.
I was super-impressed that this production company actually had giant stickers to wrap around hockey sticks. This was an actual thing! Unfortunately, they just put a little black tape over the Bauer logos on my twigs.
Film, TV and commercial shoots always have good food, and this was no exception. I filled out what seemed to be an endless amount of paperwork while I scarfed down two of the tastiest breakfast sandwiches I ever had.
I then grabbed a cup of coffee and my hockey bag, and walked over to get my hockey sticks, which now had blacked-out logos.
A production assistant ran up to me.
“Do you need help carrying your equipment?” he asked, not knowing that hockey players always carry such big bags.
“No,” I coolly replied.”I do this all the time.”
We suited up and were given special jerseys to wear. Half of us wore blue Columbus Blue Jackets third jerseys, minus the logo on the front, while the other half were given white, crestless Washington Capitals jerseys. The production company’s wardrobe department had purchased these jerseys, and their costume person used a seam ripper to tear off the logos, which were put in the trash. (Or so I was told; had I seen these discarded logos, I would have taken them home.)
Before we got on the ice, some members of the film crew inspected our gear and put appropriately-colored tape anywhere a brand logo could be seen. They taped over the logos on my helmet, gloves and hockey pants. One woman even voiced her disbelief about how many logos CCM puts on its protective gear.
Finally, around 7:30 a.m., I got to hit the ice.
I tuned and looked to the stands, and my sister was one of three people sitting there. So much for getting a big crowd to cheer for us.
The director of the commercial was this short guy from France. He called us over to the benches.
“I don’t know anything about hockey,” he confessed.
That wasn’t surprising, considering some of the choices that he made.
The first scene was shot at one end of the rink. The guy who actually knew how to play goalie was sent to the far side of the rink, while the guy who never played goalie before — he borrowed some goalie gear from his buddy — was close to the camera, and trying to make saves for the first time in his life. You think that the guy who never played goalie would be the one standing 200 feet away from the camera, instead of 10 feet from it. But I wasn’t there to make decisions.
For this particular sequence, a woman hockey player had to check a tall guy into the boards, steal the puck, and clear it around the boards. You know, because a normal-sized woman checking a tall dude into the boards totally happens all the time in rec league hockey.
However, this woman player — a friend of mine on another co-ed team — had never thrown a check before because women don’t play check hockey. The big guy she was checking didn’t know how to take a check, either, so sometimes he would bounce off the boards and fall back, knocking over the woman player.
Meanwhile, myself and the other skaters were lined up at the near blue line, looking more like a punt return team in football than a group of hockey players. Once she checked the tall guy, players from both teams would all skate forward into the zone at the same time — because that’s how it’s done, apparently — and scrimmage until the director yelled “Cut!”
After about 10 minutes, we were summoned back to the locker room. Someone had gone to a local hockey pro shop and purchased plain blue and plain white practice jerseys. We were told to take off the nicer jerseys we were originally given and put on one of these plain ones instead.
People from wardrobe taped over the Bauer logos on these brand-new practice jerseys, then sent us back out on the ice. We continued doing that first scene over and over. The goalie at the far side of the rink — the good one — was so bored that he decided to lay down on the ice. Apparently, he was not even in the shot, because no one told him to stand back up.
Maybe 40 minutes later, the director asked “Do you want some water?”
“Sure! All right. Whatever.” we all said disjointedly.
“Water!” he yells, as we all skate back to the benches and grab our hockey water bottles.
Just then, a guy runs up to the benches with a cooler full of ice-cold, name brand bottled water – we’re talking Dasani, not Sam’s Choice — and passes them out to us. All the players looked at each other. This wasn’t the usual water break we were used to between shifts.
The next scene used a camera that was mounted on a board with pucks glued to the bottom of it so it would slide nicely on the ice. The action involved something that would almost never happen in a game.
One hockey-playing extra became the camera guy and skated backwards while the rest of us skated forward, not quite abreast of each other, but pretty close. Taking a cue from Bruce Boudreau, who always knew where the camera was when filming game-action scenes in Slap Shot, I made sure that I was front and center. We did multiple takes, and the shot, which was from a low angle and looking up at us, was actually pretty cool to see when we watched the replay of it.
During some down time, many of us would huddle up and chat, since most of us played in the same league together. But I happened to notice one guy quietly pick up a hockey puck with the blade of his stick and then bounce it a few times before tossing it in the air and then hitting it into the net.
I skated over and asked him what his story was. He was an ex-ECHL player who had also played a handful of AHL games and even attended a Washington Capitals training camp. Had I been the director, I would have had this guy doing some of his trick shooting for the commercial. Instead, he was just some dude skating around, using 2% of his actual talent.
The third scene involved the camera moving diagonal across the length of the ice, while filming us from behind. We all got a chuckle — well, all but two of us — when one player wiped out and knocked over another player, forcing the camera man to put on his breaks, lest he be part of the pileup.
It took a while for the film crew to set up the last shot, so I had some down time. My water bottle went missing. Apparently, a film person didn’t like it sitting on the boards, so they confiscated it. Fortunately, I located it. I got a few of those hockey stick “wrapper” stickers from the props guys, who were flattered that I thought the wrappers were awesome. I also talked with my sister, who was cold and bored.
The last shot we filmed was one hockey player — with a gnarly beard that would make Brent Burns jealous — screaming into the camera, while the rest of us were standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the background, also screaming at the top of our lungs.
You know, typical hockey player behavior.
At 11:30 a.m., we were dismissed. The commercial was also going to film scenes at a dance studio and at the beach — all in the same day — so the film crew packed in a hurry to move on to their next location. But the hockey players were done, so we were sent home and told that we’d get our checks in a couple of weeks. We even got to keep the cheap jerseys that we used. I still have a blue Bauer practice-weight jersey to remind me of my one-day hockey job.
Unfortunately, the commercial never aired, and I don’t know why. Maybe we didn’t scream loud enough? But it would have been rad if the commercial did air, so I could point to the TV every time it was on and show everyone the one time in my life that I was paid to play hockey. But you’ll just have to take my word for it. ■