Pond Hockey begins the way it ends, with a drifting shot of wintering trees towering over a frozen river. It is an undoubtedly beautiful scene, but the calm the shot instills isn't indicative of the rest of the movie.
You don't get a true feeling of where Pond Hockey is headed until you see a frenetic group of people flying around a frozen river playing the equivalent of pick up hockey. As one of the participants notes: "You never turn down a good game of puck." And that, one might think, would fulfill Pond Hockey's mission of showing the true meaning of sports.
One minute and 21 seconds isn't quite long enough for a feature length documentary, so more is coming. The more comes in a few flavors. You get to watch amateurs play a lot of hockey, with interviews cut in every so often. You'll see some big names (Wayne Gretzky being the biggest) waxing poetic about time spent playing amateur hockey and about how different the culture was back in the day. When Pond Hockey isn't featuring a hockey legend remembering long-gone days you're either watching the pond hockey championships or listening to one of the amateur athletes talking about their time spent playing hockey.
It turns out the participants are much more interesting than the pros. These are guys who are playing in a tournament where the prize is a Golden Shovel. Sure, you could make your own with a can of Krylon and a dusty snow shovel but these guys aren't really playing for a shoveling implement, they're playing just because they love playing hockey. At this moment, it is important to note that if you're going to see this in the hopes of catching some brutal fights or great goaltending you'll be better off dusting off an old copy of Slap Shot. The hockey these guys play doesn't have fights or goalies, something that makes it much more interesting to watch.
The filmmakers do an admirable job of getting you interested in the pond hockey championships, but we are never fully engrossed in the outcome. You almost care who wins but we are more interested in watching people play for the love of playing than the eventual outcome. It's a feeling that goes nicely with the theme of the documentary. But there is also some irony. The pond hockey championships look well-attended and like fun. How long before the tournament is commercialized and people aren't just playing for the love of the game? Two years, max.
The easy thing to think is that Pond Hockey will only appeal to hockey aficionados. There's no reason not to think so; Pond Hockey is all ice all the time. But somewhere in the movie, perhaps the moment one of the players says, "Who gives a shit what a six-year-old does?" the movie stops talking just about hockey and starts talking about the changing nature of childhood. Anyone who remembers long days doing kid stuff, playing hockey, fishing, and playing baseball just because that is what you wanted to do will immediately identify with the laments of the cast. Where have those longs days spent learning nothing and everything gone?