"4 The Love of Puck" director of photography Joe Mellor (left) and co-director/producer Adam Howard (middle) interview "Ogie," a southern California roller hockey enthusiast. Photo credit: Justin Markwalter

From Germany to Groveland Park in St. Paul, from Switzerland to southern California, two local filmmakers’ passion project “4 The Love of Puck” aims to capture the sport’s essence.

Directors and producers Adam Howard and Casimir Semlak, former Mounds View High School hockey players who co-founded Connections Media, have chronicled hockey’s culture through interviews and interactions with male and female players of various ages and ability levels as well as sled hockey players.

Teaser segments on YouTube “show a little bit of the on-ice stuff, but what we want to explore are the personalities behind the game,” Howard said. Players interviewed spoke of bonds created through hockey and the therapeutic nature of getting together to chase the puck.

Semlak said the film is designed to show how hockey “can bring you through life and connect you with different people.”

“It’s easy to turn on the NHL and watch a game,” Semlak said. “But I think there’s a lot more to the sport and what it brings out of people than that.”

Howard and Semlak traveled to California and Europe throughout 2019 to gather interviews and hockey action. Video footage displayed at the 4theloveofpuck.com website shows how players are connected through hockey despite differences in climate. Shirtless roller hockey players compete on an oceanside beach near Los Angeles, their sweat glistening in the sun. More drops of water are captured, this time produced by the spray of a hose used to flood an outdoor ice rink at frigid Groveland Park in St. Paul.

Groveland Park is the location of “Playground Puck,” an 8-team co-ed hockey tournament taking place Jan. 17-19 to raise funds to finish the film project. A portion of the proceeds will also be donated to the Groveland Community Center.

Filming will take place at the tournament, followed by a trip to Toronto for additional footage. Howard and Semlak plan to distribute the film this spring. More than 40 interviews and 100 hours of footage will be edited to a running time of about 60-70 minutes.

Burnt out on hockey by the time he graduated high school, Howard, 40, rekindled his passion for the game about five years later. Playing in a local adult hockey league with Semlak, 43, led to conversations about both the heart of the sport and an ambitious film project.

“We were just playing for the love of the game,” Howard said. “But there was something else within the hockey community that made it special. It was more than a workout. And we thought we should find a way to capture it.”

Their first on-location shoot in June of 2019 in California had the duo, plus director of photography Joe Mellor, “working out of our office in a SUV,” Howard said. “We were getting by on lots of beef jerky and corn nuts.”

From humble beginnings came rich material.

“Those first people we were putting on camera were speaking our language,” Howard said. “We said, ‘We really did hit on something here.’ ”

The vibe followed Howard and Semlak throughout a second California trip, this time with cinematographer Justin Markwalter, and last fall’s hockey tour of Europe. Cinematographer Zach Bakewell captured footage from Austria, Germany, Italy and Switzerland.

Howard said, “When Cas talked about going to Europe for hockey I said, ‘This is our opportunity and we’re aiming high.’ ”

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