Meet Chris Driedger, professional goaltender and film maker

Driedger and his partners in Sin Bin Studios have been pitching their new documentary on professional roller hockey in California.

Meet Chris Driedger, professional goaltender and film maker

Feature photo: Getty Images

Chris Driedger is a professional goaltender. It takes exceptional commitment, passion and skill to do what he does, but as he continues to learn, it is not who he is, it is not what solely defines him.

These kinds of distinctions have been brought into focus more clearly over the past several months as Driedger and his partners in Sin Bin Studios have been pitching their new documentary on professional roller hockey in California to potential distributors and debating which film festivals might be a good fit for it.

“As for the process, we didn’t really know what to expect. We kind of just said, ‘You know what? The best way to learn is by doing, so let’s just go out and we’ll figure it out as we go,’” Driedger said during an interview shortly prior to the 2023-24 season.

“We learned a ton. I’ve never pitched anything before, until this, so now we’re on Zoom calls with executives from ESPN 30 for 30, we’re pitching our documentary and prepping for it and it’s just something completely new.”

“It’s just been kind of forcing us to think on our feet and just zoom out and get a big picture of what we want to do, what direction we want to go, how we want to market this. And it’s just a lot of problems that need to be solved, and it’s been a blast," Driedger added. 

The PBH arena set up on Huntington Beach.
(Photo courtesy of Sin Bin Studios) 

One of the first things Driedger, 29, did when he turned pro after the Ottawa Senators made him the 76th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, was invest some money in a rental property in his hometown of Winnipeg.

During his time with the Senators organization, Driedger became close friends with Max McCormick. The forward was also dabbling in real estate in his home state of Wisconsin, buying and renting a home and then making some similar investments with short-term rental properties.

After their playing careers took them in different directions for a few years, both ended up with the Kraken organization and, as usual, their conversations turned to what kinds of things they were doing outside of hockey. McCormick mentioned he had been talking to an old pal from Ohio State University, Jake Cimperman, about an idea Cimperman had for a documentary pro beach hockey, which was the rage in California in the 1990s.

That is where the ambitious NHLPA UNLMT initiative comes into play.

The National Hockey League Players’ Association initiative helps current NHL players identify personal traits and characteristics that might be beneficial in a non-hockey setting, while also helping players identify and pursue interests to turn them into meaningful outcomes. The initiative then helps marry those traits with interests outside of hockey whether it is expanding a player’s own philanthropic work, craft beer brewing, real estate, academics, or, in Driedger’s case, creating and marketing a documentary film.

“There’s kind of these forces pulling me in these directions and I found it pretty interesting,” Driedger said of his involvement with NHLPA UNLMT.

“Hockey’s a lot physically but you’re not at the rink for as long as you’d think,” Driedger explained. “I’ve always found it nice to have something else going on and spend time doing something else you enjoy doing.”

NHLPA UNLMT is not necessarily about finding a post-hockey career, although there is certainly the potential for that to happen, but rather to help players focus on the networks of people available to them and the interests they might have outside hockey while they are still playing.

John Hierlihy, NHLPA UNLMT Personal Strategist, notes that elite athletes have a remarkable opportunity while they are still in the game to really leverage that experience.

“That’s always been our M.O. Don’t wait until they’re out of the game. You need to help them carve a path,” Hierlihy added. “The hardest part, I think, for a lot of these players is getting started, right?”

Hierlihy has lived it with a son, now attending university, who played competitive hockey and watched some of his teammates get drafted by NHL teams.

“Their identity is hockey, they’re hockey players,” Hierlihy said. “But a lot of them haven’t thought of themselves outside of hockey. And they have no idea where to start.”

NHLPA UNLMT is that place for players who want to begin this process of self-assessment.

PBH legend Vashi Nedomansky posing for a picture with a young fan. 
(Photo courtesy of Sin Bin Studios)  

“Basically, I would say the NHLPA UNLMT program has been really helpful in expanding the way I think about my life and how I want to spend my time and I guess kind of directing me into what I want to do after hockey and just think about it more,” Driedger said.

For some players, NHLPA UNLMT starts with a self-assessment survey to gauge as to how he might want to proceed, with the experience being tailored to each individual player. There are courses players can take through institutes such as Stanford University or the University of British Columbia that may help unlock areas of interest.

Driedger has taken several courses including ones focused on entrepreneurial business, economics and management.

As players identify more specific areas of interest, Hierlihy and fellow NHLPA UNLMT Personal Strategist Duncan Fletcher work closely in a one-on-one forum to help players take the next steps.

It does not matter the player’s interests, “there’s probably a good chance we can add a little bit of value,” Hierlihy said.

Not only does the process allow players to imagine things beyond the game, there is a real benefit to their current playing dynamic in encouraging them to direct their energy and focus, regardless of how things are going in the hockey world.

Driedger recently earned a 37-save win on December 27 in his 2023-24 season debut for the Kraken his first NHL game since May 1, 2022. While he returned to the ice last year on February 27 to play for the AHL’s Coachella Valley Firebirds, his NHL return marked the on-ice culmination of working through a lengthy rehab to recover from a knee injury. Despite the setback, he made good use of his time away from the rink to work on the documentary. Helping fill the time during his rehab was beneficial.

“You can get inside your own head a bit,” said Driedger of those times when a player is injured, is struggling on the ice or has been sent to the minors.

Where Hierlihy and Fletcher’s presence is most keenly felt is in their very real interest in each player’s specific interest or area of focus.

“John’s just so helpful and so supportive, too. As soon as you’re off the phone with John you’re like, I could run through a wall right now,” Driedger said. “He’s just so encouraging. He just wants people to succeed and that really comes across when you talk to him and it’s great to have that built into the PA. I think it’s [NHLPA UNLMT] just a really incredible resource and I’m really looking forward to seeing how this evolves because it’s pretty new, right? It’s really cool to be able to use our platform and spend our time doing things that interest us because we do have this kind of time during the day where, yeah, we could be playing XBox or whatever it is, but some people have some other interests they want to set themselves up for after hockey and this kind of gives us the ability to do that.”

Fan favourite Chris Nelson in his Dawg Pac jersey, gearing up for a PBH game in Huntington Beach.
(Photo courtesy of Sin Bin Studios) 

At the time of these conversations, the documentary was undergoing its final edits and had a working title of Pro Beach Hockey: Sun, Surf and Slapshots.

Cimperman, the producer of the documentary, grew up in Buffalo but also spent time in Los Angeles where he now lives and had some fuzzy memories of a pro roller hockey league that was played on the beach. He thought it would be a cool idea for a documentary project.

Cimperman played club hockey at Ohio State, where he met and became friends with McCormick in a television and film class. Cimperman felt there was a story to tell about this crazy roller sport juxtaposed against the growth of ice hockey with Wayne Gretzky’s arrival in Los Angeles in the early 1990s.

Driedger and McCormick agreed.

“And then out of nowhere comes this pro beach hockey. Where there’s ramps behind the net, they’re playing on the beach. They bring in guys basically from the minors all over the world. They’re all staying in a hotel. They’re drinking. They’re partying. They’re playing hockey,” Driedger said. “It’s just a whirlwind for these guys. Just a really, really wild story. The games are aired on ESPN and it’s just a crazy time in the history of hockey and roller hockey.”

“It's a really fun film and filled with a ton of great stories. The personalities in this league are incredible,” Driedger added. “There’s a tough guy from Winnipeg, my hometown, Mike Butters. He comes out with this crazy red afro wig for some games, he’s 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, he fights and does these hilarious skits they show during intermissions. He’s incredibly entertaining. Clippers cheerleaders are dancing during the game. Dennis Rodman is showing up to watch, along with other celebrities. And I haven’t even gotten into some of the shenanigans these guys got into away from the rink. The whole thing is raw entertainment that you don’t really see much anymore. It just seemed like a story that needed to be told.”

While Cimperman has been the boots on the ground doing interviews and assembling the images for the documentary, Driedger and McCormick have been hands-on when it comes to the editing process as well as using their contacts in the hockey world to help line up interviews. Hockey Hall of Famer Luc Robitaille (now a top executive with the Los Angeles Kings), agent Pat Brisson of CAA, and veteran player and U.S. Olympian Bobby Ryan all lend some gravitas to the film with their thoughts on the upstart league.

Cimperman, who worked with Major League Baseball prior to this project, has been impressed with the way Driedger and McCormick have been so engaged in their roles as producers, including how they have dealt with setbacks and adversity.

“Having producers on your team that are professional athletes, they are great motivators and when there are problems they just keep pushing and they plough through. They don’t make excuses,” Cimperman said. “They are really sharp and they pick things up so quickly.”

A testament to the street credibility they have brought to the proceedings, at one point McCormick appeared on a Zoom call with potential distributors with a shiner courtesy of a dust-up from a recent game.

Neither hockey player had any experience that was specifically related to making a film, but both have reveled in hands-on participation at every level of the documentary’s journey.

Jeanie Buss (shown here outside her L.A. home) was an integral part of the roller hockey explosion in California and brought her unique perspective and relentless determination to driving PBH to the next level. 
(Photo courtesy of Sin Bin Studios) 

“I’ve just been really impressed working with Chris,” McCormick said. “He’s a super, super smart guy and he’s really detailed. He always follows through. He does what he says he’s going to do. He’s definitely a guy I’m happy to be in business with.”

The great thing, and maybe what stands as the perfect illustrator of what NHLPA UNLMT has the potential to be, is that finding a festival in which to unveil the film or finding a distributor to make it available on a streaming service, is not the end of this story.

Not even close.

Driedger and his partners at Sin Bin Studios are already in discussions on a second documentary project with other ideas also being discussed with investors.

“It’s exciting just to think about what the future could hold,” Driedger said. “I’ve never started a company before and so this is kind of my first crack at that. And all of a sudden we’ve got a production company and now we have to talk about, okay, what’s our next project? Do we expand? How does that look? What’s our niche that we’re going to find here going forward? Who are the strategic partners we want to work with?”

Chris Driedger is a professional goaltender. And, as it turns out, he is also a professional film maker. Imagine that.