With its recent arrival on Netflix, many lacrosse fans are finally discovering “The Grizzlies” movie, which was originally released in Canada in 2019.
Set in the community of Kugluktuk, Nunavut, the true story depicts the power of the resilient, hopeful, and inspiring Inuit youth. The lives of the students are transformed by the sport of lacrosse.
For Rochester Knighthawks defenseman Rowan Kelly, talking about the movie again jarred his memory of the two weeks he spent in the Arctic. At the time, Kelly was just 19 years old and a member of the Western University and Toronto Beaches (Jr. A) lacrosse teams.
Kelly, who was selected as a lacrosse double in the film, still remembers the flight to Iqaluit, Nunavut, where the movie was filmed. What started as a Toronto to Ottawa flight, ended with a prop plane making runs to small towns and cities en route to the city of 7,700 people.
It was an amazing experience for Rowan and his brother, Jack, and several other lacrosse players selected to appear in the movie. He recalled adjusting to the 24 hours of sun and seeing ice and snow in May of 2016 when shooting began. He also learned the story of “The Grizzlies” firsthand from coach/teacher Russ Sheppard, who brought lacrosse to Kugluktuk in the ‘90s.
“It was incredible to hear about the real-life stories that this movie was based on,” said Kelly. “Russ Sheppard was adamant that we not take the experience for granted. I know that I speak for myself and my brother when I say that the experience allowed us to take a step back and look at the game as a whole. Lacrosse is the Medicine Game, and it means a lot to different people from all walks of life.”
Rochester Knighthawks broadcaster Craig Rybczynski sat down with Rowan Kelly in this player Q&A to recount his role in the movie.
You were one of several NLL players in the movie, The Grizzlies. How were you selected to appear in the film?
My dad and I were at Hogtown Lacrosse in Toronto and Mike, who runs the store, told us that there was a movie crew in the area looking for lacrosse doubles for a movie. Myself, my brother and five other lacrosse players were sized up for corresponding actors in the film. I ended up being the lacrosse double for Innosaur, who plays one of Russ’ students.
Describe a typical day on the set?
I can’t say that there was a typical day on set because first and foremost, we were in Iqaluit, Nunavut, for the first two weeks of filming. It was my first time in the Arctic, and there was so much about the culture that I was completely unaware of. Our jobs were to be the lacrosse doubles for the actors playing Russ’ students, which meant when they put their helmets on, we would be the ones playing lacrosse. Throughout our time there, our job turned into coaches at some point to make them look more comfortable holding and playing with lacrosse sticks. Everything that we were a part of was shot on location; sometimes, it was distracting just looking off into the expanse of Nunavut. The views were breathtaking.
How great was it to go through the experience with your brother Jack?
It was an incredible experience. It made it even better because I got to experience it alongside my brother.
How exciting was it to make your acting debut?
It was a really exciting experience. I was very interested in movies beforehand, so it was very impressive to see how a movie is made. The number of resources and manpower focused on a single project was really interesting to observe and be a part of to a small extent.
What was it like watching the finished product?
I thought the finished product was fantastic. I even had friends who didn’t know I was involved with this, telling me that I have to check this movie out. I think with the way it turned out, as well as the recognition it got from TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) and other outlets, all those hard-working people involved should be very proud of what they were able to do.
Is acting in your future?
It was such a great experience that I would love to do something like that again. But, as for actually acting, I think I’ll stick to watching movies instead!