The Last Game

A Documentary to Save Hockey and the Planet

(Approximately 11-minute read)

“When you find out what people care about, and connect climate impacts directly to the values people have, they can see that caring about climate change is already integral to who they are.”

Katharine Hayhoe in Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World

I started Hayhoe’s book while flying last-minute to Scotland on RyanAir (an 8 euro flight, if you can believe it). I was struck by the synchronicity of her message and my latest trip. Connect climate impacts to what people already care about – who they are. 

Sports, meet climate change.

How I Got Here

EcoAthletes is a climate advocacy group that I’m very proud to be a part of. The founder, Lew Blaustein, had serendipitously invited me to co-present the COP26 Sports Community Manifesto at an event called Sport@COP, a sub-event at the world UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. The Manifesto, signed by a global roster of 300+ athletes, sports teams, sponsors, aimed to show the COP26 delegates that the sports world expected real action on climate. As an added bonus, I was also to take part in a hockey game organized by award winning film producer Jon Alpert (“Cuba and the Cameraman”, “Redemption”). 

I first met Jon over the phone, when he called me from Clary Anderson, the tiny town rink in Montclair, New Jersey where I learned how to skate. Sometimes the hockey world can feel so small! 

He told me about a documentary he was working on called ‘The Last Game.’ He and his team would be filming around the world to highlight the impacts of climate change on different countries, focusing on the hockey community itself. Now, here was an amazing opportunity to show people “that caring about climate change is already integral to who they are.” 

I relayed to him that months earlier, I had completed a Masters’ thesis exploring new technologies to make refrigeration in ice rinks more efficient. We were both sold and enthusiastically began to talk logistics.

My hockey bag departing sunny Italy vs. rainy Edinburgh

And that’s how I found myself stepping onto the tarmac with Scottish rain blowing sideways under a grey sky. Despite having only two weeks to plan the trip, I convinced a new friend, Dom, to come with me — we’ve been happily dating since! After an afternoon spent exploring the stone city of Edinburgh, Dom and I hopped into a cab to meet Jon for a drink. 

The architecture of Edinburgh adorned in COP26 banners

The Last Game Team

As I looked around the restaurant for the guy I had only seen on Google image search, I spotted a man in sweats with a feather popping out of his baseball cap. Noticing us too, Jon gave us a big wave and signaled us over to the table.

There we met Sergei Rybakov who was introduced as Slava’s personal assistant. As in Slava Fetisov: two-time Olympic Gold Medalist, two-time Stanley Cup winner, and Hockey Hall of Famer. He is a UN Environmental Patron of the Polar Regions and a key player in the Last Game project. Slava personally takes part in each game in a tour that will ultimately visit more than 30 countries.

With stereotypical Russian exuberance, Sergei handled the drink orders for the evening. He was pushing whiskey, but I managed to avoid his persistence and stuck to beer. We also met Naomi, Jon’s right hand-woman. She is his video editor, microphone tech, coordinator, and has the delicate task of keeping Jon focused. It was her birthday and so after ordering cake, we all said hello to her father in Japan over FaceTime. Jon told encaptivating stories of war time reporting, including how, in his own telling, his wife’s courage on the battlefield overshadowed his own, and I tried to wrap my head around what I had gotten myself into.

Naomi, Jon, Sergei, me and Dom

The next day we got in the car with these barely-more-than-strangers and drove down to Dumfries, Scotland – a town I had to look up on Google Maps. The drive was beautiful: autumn leaves and vines colored the long stone retaining walls and fields of green grass were occasionally dotted with fluffy sheep. The beautiful scenery was a great reprieve from the terror of being on the wrong side of the road and Jon’s driving (no offense, Jon!). We had some close calls; Dom offered to take the wheel about three times, but we eventually made it to a glass-facade rink peppered with logos of official IIHF events that had been hosted there.

The IIHF tournament logos, Jon with a Scottish Sheep, and the rink blessing, which reads, “Haste ye back to the Ice Bowl”

Jon and Naomi went into business mode. Microphones, ideas for shots, jerseys with the Last Game logo. Jon was on the phone tracking down equipment for all the special guests he had coordinated to be there. That included tracking down a stick for me to borrow after the Italian bag-check attendant adamantly refused to let me bring my own.

Jon had arranged for two hockey celebrities to be at the game. The first was Slava.; the second was… me.

Me and my rockstar d-partner
Showtime

In addition to not feeling equal caliber on the ice, I can promise that my acting career will not be taking off anytime soon. My off-ice segments included a tour of the Dumfries rink with Straun (pronounced “Stroon”), the rink manager. 

Feeling uncomfortable and embarrassed, my memory appeared to have stopped functioning. Much to Jon’s frustration, I struggled to repeat the simple lines he suggested. The experience did, however, force me to refresh my memory about my Masters’ thesis. 

Straun and Slava with his Soviet Union jersey

Straun walked me through some of the efficiency upgrades the rink had implemented to lower its carbon footprint. He pointed out the new LED lighting and the reflective ceiling insulation which reduced radiation. I knew from my thesis that the ice’s thermal interaction with the ceiling was a surprisingly high heat load on the ice. 

The main contributors to refrigeration needs in indoor rinks, based on a 2014 study and a graphic representation of the main types. The largest contribution often comes from radiative interactions with the ceiling.

We made our way to the back of the rink, where the equipment room is housed. I explained that I had studied an innovative refrigerant, called aqua-ammonia and we both stumbled to remember the more common refrigerants (Apparently, I was as mentally rusty as a typical mechanical room). This rink was utilizing another environmentally friendly fluid called ethylene glycol. My thesis research helped validate that aqua ammonia requires even less pumping energy to meet the cooling needs compared to several other refrigerants, while also considering the global warming impact and safety. (If you have further interest in this topic, please consider contacting my colleagues at EKA who are true experts in eco-friendly ice rinks.)

Finally, we made our way into the curling rink housed in the same building. There we met Stewart a wheelchair curler. Similar to the plight of the ODR (outdoor hockey rink), Stewart recounted how they used to be able to curl outside on local lakes, but how global warming had prevented that from happening in years. Stewart also tried to show me how to curl. Let’s just say I need a bit more practice. 

Stewart and me after my rock didn’t make it the full length of the pitch

The Good Ol’ Game

After the curtain came down on my acting debut, it was time for the fun part.

As far as eco’-rinks go, facts are important and nice but, 

“Instead, when we’re talking about contentious, politicized issues, study after study has shown that sharing our personal and lived experiences is far more compelling than reeling off distant facts. Connect who we are to why we care. Bond with someone over a value we already possess and share, one that is already near and dear to our hearts. Tell them why you care about climate change and why others might, too.”

Hayhoe, Katharine. Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World (p. 19). 

Sport is the greatest unifier. I’ve been lucky to play professionally in five countries and for fun in Barcelona, Germany, and Japan, among others. There is nothing better to break the ice (pun intended) than lacing up with new friends. Straun and his teammates were all the energy you would expect from a bunch of Scottish lads and this game I had the bonus of being joined by two local girls: Naomi who had only started skating at 21 (and was now crushing it) and Megan, who is a rising star on team GB. Jon joined us on the ice. He wore no helmet and had his face glued to his camera which made us all nervous on every play. Then the hockey was hockey. 

Fun, old-school, love-the-game hockey. 

It didn’t hurt at all to be playing with Slava. He’s definitely still got it. 

Every single pass was directly on my tape and he was a master at setting our teammates up. On the bench between shifts, he would whisper to me who he was going to have score next and sure enough the next shift he would feed that player the puck over and over again until they scored. He had that effortless hockey-IQ of someone who has played at the highest level.

As most informal games can be, The Last Game: Dumfries was high scoring. As the goals were announced in a thick Scottish accent I couldn’t help but chuckle thinking about a skit in which a voice activated elevator can’t understand the commands of two Scottish Riders. Each time I assisted or scored a goal, we would hear, “red, number 11” over the sound system and I would think of these guys trying to reach the 11th floor. “Eleven! Eleven! SCOTLAAAAND!” The  VIDEO is definitely worth a watch.

“ELEVEN!”

The COP26 All-Stars

Jon also brought in two Climate All-Stars for The Last Game:

Max Dilley is the Director of the Climate Programme at the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The WMO is responsible for coordinating climate measurements among the globe’s countries. They co-hosted the COP26 Science Pavilion with the IPCC providing a platform for negotiations on climate action. This suave man with a thin goatee and earring was friendly as could be while explaining how exhausting the first few days of the COP26 conference had been. The difficult negotiations continued after the game as he rushed back to Glasgow to continue. Many people, myself included, felt not enough commitments were ultimately secured, despite the relentless efforts of scientists like Max.

The full crew. Max is in the front row, second from the right.

Sian Prior (pronounced “shawn”) is a marine scientist who studies the climate impact of arctic shipping routes. In a car-ride chat after the game, Sian explained to me how the critical arctic ecosystem is under increasing threat from a source I hadn’t previously considered: as the arctic ice melts, the area becomes more navigable to shipping. These ships are often propelled by heavy fuel oil, which has extremely high levels of air and climate pollution. The incompletely combusted residue of burning heavy fuel oil creates what she called “black carbon” particles, which are deposited onto arctic snow and ice, accelerating the heating and melting of this globally critical region of earth. This great article summarizes the situation.

Sian, Slava and me

Impact and Climate Dread                                                       

I’ve tried to change some habits to reduce my personal carbon footprint. I bike instead of drive and I buy groceries in small batches to cut waste. More broadly, I try to buy as few “things” as possible. I’ve even gone so far as to reuse my plastic game-sock tape and now only need one roll per season. But I still play ice hockey in high consuming rinks. I still fly for the pure enjoyment of traveling and often inefficiently for hockey (like our 4-day trip to Japan from Calgary for mid-season friendly games). 

Scientist after scientist have made clear that individual behavior changes, while laudable, won’t move the needle enough on emissions. Rather, what’s needed is system change, which requires pro-climate corporate and governmental policy signals and actions. Those system changes that will reduce peoples’ footprints whether they care about climate or not.

That may be true but we shouldn’t minimize the need for individual climate-friendly behaviors as well as starting conversations that will get more individuals to care and act. After all, millions of micro-actions will get the attention of business and political leaders and who is to say where the tipping point will come from. 

Hockey players come in all shapes – maybe it’s the Hockey Hall of Famer who can convince Putin to change Russian climate policies, maybe it’s the Scottish climate scientist who pushes policy about arctic shipping routes, or the Swiss WMO director who borrowed a full set of gear just to lace up during COP26. Or maybe it’s a random hockey playing engineer who tips the scales. Each of us will be only part of the puzzle.

I want future generations to be able to skate on the nearby lake and fall in love with hockey in nature, or bond with their parents on a backyard ice. Yes, the game of hockey has moved indoors but everyone who has experienced it knows, nothing compares to playing outside with no time limits and no coached drills, just freedom and freezing toes.

Hayhoe provided a perfect conclusion, 

“We care because the cascade of events triggered by that warming affects everything we already care about: where we get the food that we eat and how much it costs; how clean or dirty the air that we breathe is; the economy and national security; hunger, disease, and poverty across the planet; the future of civilization as we know it. 

We’ve woven a million reasons why we already care about climate change into the very fabric of our society. We just haven’t fully realized it yet.” 

Hayhoe, Katharine. Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World

Epilogue: Ukraine

When I originally drafted this post back in November 2021, the thought of Putin and Russia’s climate policy was detached from Russia’s unprovoked assault on Ukraine. The thought of the aggression and violence wasn’t yet imaginable to most of Europe. Upon revisiting the post and getting it ready for its publication, it feels incomplete without making mention of the situation.

I can’t speak to Slava’s opinion, but Jon has been vocal about disagreeing with the war. He asked hockey players from around the world to film themselves condemning the attack. My team in Italy, the Bolzano Eagles, contributed a video adding our voices to the call for peace. As Jon put it, “Hockey players stand up to bullies. Blood on the ice, peace in the world.”

*A special thank you to Lew, EcoAthletes founder, for his support and time in editing this piece*

Hey there!

I’m Jacquie and I’m an American hockey player living in Bolzano, Italy. I write about hockey, sustainability, and food.

More About Me

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