In the summer of 2017, Maine newspaper reporters began writing about a new minor league hockey team starting up in Portland. They had no idea they were writing Devon Platte the synopsis for his latest reality TV project.

“I picked up the paper and started reading one morning in my kitchen on Munjoy Hill. I read that they were going to let the fans name the team, and Wild Blueberries was a contender, that this was Portland’s third team and fans were not too happy when the last one left,” said Platte, a Portland-based TV producer whose credits include the Maine-based reality show “North Woods Law” on Animal Planet and “The Amazing Race” on CBS. “Then I heard Danny Briere, this big NHL star, was coming in to run the team. I said, ‘I can make a TV show out of this.’ ”

And he did. He created and produced “Puckland,” a look at the formation of the new Maine Mariners minor league hockey team, which began playing in October.

The digital documentary series, divided into six 10-minute episodes, will begin airing Sunday on NBCSports.com. New episodes will air online every Sunday through May 5. The first three episodes will also air at 11 a.m. Sunday on the state’s NBC affiliates, the News Center Maine stations in Portland and Bangor, with the other episodes to air on those stations at yet-to-be-determined times.

Maine Mariners players in a scene from the documentary series “Puckland.” Photo courtesy of Devon Platte

“Puckland” is part of a trend in sports reality programming toward short, web-based series like “Tom Vs. Time,” a six-episode documentary series on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady that aired last year on Facebook Watch.

CHASING DREAMS

“Puckland” follows the team’s management as it assembles a staff and players to begin playing in the ECHL (what was the East Coast Hockey League), two levels below the NHL. Platte and his crew filmed early attempts to promote the new team and create fan excitement, including an old-timers game between former members of the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers in Portland. Cameras caught discussions between the front office and the coaching staff on what players they could get and who should stay.

Crews filmed meetings where team officials picked the team colors (green and blue) or talked about hiring a coach (Riley Armstrong) or discussed the possible team mascot (a puffin named Beacon). Fans were allowed to vote for a name, and Mariners, which a previous Portland team had been called, beat out Wild Blueberries.

Platte and his crew spent four months following the team’s staff and players as they readied for the first drop of the puck.

Director of photography Joe Brunette films artist Mike Rich working on a mural during the filming of “Puckland.” Photo courtesy of Devon Platte

Platte calls “Puckland” a combination of “Moneyball,” the Michael Lewis book on the business of baseball focusing on the Oakland Athletics, and the football reality show “Hard Knocks.” In that series, an HBO film crew documents an NFL team’s training camp and preparation for the season.

But at its core “Puckland” is about the dreams of everyone involved in minor league sports: players wanting to make it to the NHL, coaches and GMs hoping for bigger and better jobs, and fans longing for a championship and a team that will stick with them for a while. The Portland Pirates hockey team left town in 2016 after more than 20 years, while the original Mariners played in Portland from the late ’70s into the early ’90s.

“Everyone in the minor leagues has a dream of going somewhere else,” said Platte, 53.

Besides providing an inside look at the running of a minor league team and the aspirations of staff and players, “Puckland” also has some notable extra touches. Platte had Maine artist Mike Rich paint a graffiti-style mural in a back alley off Center Street that replicated a long-standing Portland mural depicting a postcard with the words “Greetings from Portland, Maine” and various local images. The original was on a wall that was torn down in 2016 for the expansion of the Aura nightclub. The new one, which was only up for a short time, had the letters “Puck” written in spray paint over the beginning of “Portland” to create “Puckland.”

And the film was narrated by Howie Slaughter, a Portlander, hockey fan and longtime rock musician who had never done any professional voice-over work. Platte liked his authentic Maine accent and attitude.

“Devon’s a real can-do guy who always figures out how to get it done,” said Joe Brunette, the Maine-based director of photography for “Puckland” who also worked with Platte on “North Woods Law.” “I appreciate how he involves people early on in the idea process, in what the story will be about. I didn’t know anything about hockey when we started (“Puckland”), but I knew the story would be about people chasing their dreams.”

Filmmaker Devon Platte speaks with Maine Mariners Assistant Coach Anthony Bohn at the Cross Insurance Arena. Platte’s latest film is “Puckland,” a digital documentary series of six 10-minute episodes following the creation of the new Maine Mariners hockey team. Joel Page/Staff Photographer

MAINE FOR WORK, MAINE TO STAY

Platte grew up in Los Angeles, where his father was a Lutheran minister. His interests included sports, English and political science. He was always a movie fan and made videos as a hobby. He attended college in California at Chico State and California State University, Northridge, taking film courses at the latter. But after college he took an eclectic career path, volunteering for political campaigns and teaching English in Japan. He also worked in the media department for U.S.A. Volleyball.

After several years, he decided to put his film studies to use and try to get a job in the industry. It was the late 1990s, and reality TV was just beginning to gain popularity. With his interest in the outdoors and adventure, Platte was drawn to a cable TV show called “Eco-Challenge,” in which teams of challengers raced against each other in multiday expeditions. It was created by Mark Burnett, who went on to launch such reality show successes as “Survivor,” “The Apprentice,” “Shark Tank,” “The Voice” and many others.

Maine Mariners coach Riley Armstrong in a scene from the documentary series “Puckland.” Photo courtesy of Devon Platte

Platte first came to Maine in the winter of 2000 as a field producer on a short-lived Fox network murder-mystery reality competition show, “Murder in Small Town X,” shooting in Eastport. Ten contestants were filmed trying to solve fictional murders in the fictional town of Sunrise, Maine. While there, he met Pamela Jack, an Augusta-area native who was working on the show. The two have been a couple ever since.

In the early 2000s, Platte traveled the world as a field producer for “The Amazing Race,” helping to nail down logistics for the races and challenges of that CBS reality show. Because his work took him around the world, he could live anywhere. So he and Jack settled in Portland. When the company putting together “North Woods Law” for Animal Planet began looking for a producer who knew the area and who knew local crew he could hire, they looked to Platte. The show followed members of the Maine Warden Service as they patrolled the state looking for poachers and other lawbreakers, or rescued people and animals in peril. The show, which began airing in 2012, moved to New Hampshire in 2017.

As a producer, Platte basically takes the idea of a show and makes it a reality, which includes coming up with a list of people and places to include in the show, and the logistics of moving a crew around.

“Your job, whether you’re producing something about game wardens or hockey, is to become a temporary expert on that subject really quick and understand the story you’re trying to tell,” said Platte.

“North Woods Law” was popular nationally and made local stars of the wardens. When the show moved to New Hampshire, then-Gov. Paul LePage said he never liked the show and had received complaints that the show portrayed wardens who “hide in the woods and just go after out-of-state hunters.” But Platte said he and his crew were merely following the wardens as they went about their business and tried to “stay out of their way.”

Maine Mariners staff put logos up on the walls at the Cross Insurance Arena during filming of the documentary series “Puckland.” Photo courtesy of Devon Platte

SHOOT, SCORE

When he first thought of filming the back-room machinations of the new, yet-unnamed Portland hockey team, Platte emailed vice president of business operations Adam Goldberg and GM Briere to see if they ‘d be interested. They ran the idea by the team’s owner, Comcast Spectacor, which also owns the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers.

“I thought it would be good for a new team coming in to get some publicity,” said Briere. “We were starting from scratch, so watching the film might also let us know where we made mistakes, know where maybe we could have done things differently.”

To finance the film, Platte partnered with Brian Corcoran of Shamrock Sports & Entertainment, a Portland sports marketing company that has a separate division for sports programming, Shamrock Signature.

The interviews and behind the scenes shots are helped by a raucous soundtrack. It includes hockey-specific songs by arguably the best-known hockey-themed rock band, the Zambonis from Connecticut, as well as music from Maine-based acts like rapper Spose and The Mallett Brothers Band. To illustrate the days when Portland was without a hockey team, a Zamboni is shown clearing the ice in an empty Cross Insurance Arena while “The Lonely Zamboni Song” by The Canadian Beaver Band plays.

The trailer for the series includes clips of fans talking about their love of Portland’s minor league hockey teams dating back to the 1970s. Narrator Slaughter explains that Mainers were blissfully rooting for their teams until “some hosers stole our friggin’ puck.” A new team, he explained, would need new everything: coaches, players, owners, managers. But mostly, Slaughter said, “they’d need us.”

“I’m biased because I was in it, but I think it’s really cool,” said Briere, a longtime NHL player who’s in his first stint running a team. “It gives people an inside look at the minor leagues. Nobody’s getting rich. Everybody’s in it for the love of the game.”


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