Olympic documentary brings film crew, hockey coach to Wichita to tell story of Force-Flying Monkeys rivalry

The International Olympic Committee wanted an underdog hockey story and found one in Wichita.

“We looked into Canada, we looked all over the place, we looked all over the world, really,” said film producer Alé (pronounced Allie) D’Avanzo.

The IOC is sponsoring eight hour-long documentaries that pair Olympic coaches or athletes with developing teams to record their progress when aided by high-level training and motivation. The Wichita Force hockey team, comprised of law enforcement personnel, spent the past week with coach Daniele Sauvageau, who coached the Canadian women’s team to the 2002 Winter Olympic gold medal.

The training, and the documentary, is put to the test at 10 a.m. Sunday at the Wichita Ice Center, when the Force plays the Wichita Fire Flying Monkeys. The Force is winless against the firefighters in the five years of the charity games. Admission to the game is free with donations going to Wichita Children’s Home.

“One of the things we were looking for is a rivalry,” D’Avanzo said. “And this particular group of people has an incredible story.”  

Sauvageau jumped into training the Force on the ice, off the ice and in video sessions. With a short practice window, she focused on strategic adjustments that compensate for a wide variety of skills and experience. The team’s checking strategy came under special scrutiny as she tries to deal with superior speed from the Flying Monkeys.

“Some players are just starting to play hockey, or had a pair of skates on their feet just five years ago, so you really need to work on positioning,” she said. “We need to put in a system where the faster players will be used and the least-developed player will continue to play … and understand their position as to not be off guard or out of position. Just that can change the chemistry of the team.”

One of the Force players told Sauvageau he learned the sport at the Ice Center in clinics with children ages 7 and 8. Sauvageau dialed back her jargon and explained terms that inexperienced players aren’t familiar with.

“They’ve asked a lot of questions,” she said. “They’ve been trying. Its shows they’re listening.”

The film crew leaves Tuesday for Mexico and a documentary about a women’s basketball team. The series will also include documentaries on a soccer team in South Africa, a volleyball team in London and others. It will be available during the 2016 Summer Olympics on the IOC’s internet channel. The IOC also wants to sell the series to TV networks, D’Avanzo said.

Wichita Ice Center hockey director Shane Brydges suggested the Force to director Matt Litchfield. The film crew arrived in Wichita two weeks ago to film and interview the team.

“They fit the bill; it’s a great story,” Litchfield said. “It’s like ‘The Mighty Ducks’ (movie); it’s trying to coach the underdogs.”

Paul Suellentrop: 316-269-6760, @paulsuellentrop