On the Bench - on a summer it could have never imagined

Justin Cuthbert
It was a summer the boys at On the Bench could have never imagined.

Like any sudden rise to prominence, On the Bench needed to do something spectacular, something shocking, something completely and utterly absurd to create a big enough stir.

But when Olly Postanin and Jacob Ardown laced up their skates on an empty ball hockey rink and carved sparks from the concrete as they attempted to simulate power skating drills (because there was no ice available, apparently) the aim wasn’t to become viral sensations.

They were just trying to make their friends laugh.

Now, eight months after first beginning to film their spoofs of exaggerating Canada’s hockey subculture – these bits previously limited to basements and beer league locker rooms – the boys of On the Bench are making legions of followers on Instagram, Facebook and Youtube crack up, too.

Unintentional sensations, Postanin and Ardown are fresh off a summer spent travelling to rinks and events across North America to film their parodies with NHL players (all of whom have a thing or two to learn from the former Bangladesh pro and Virgin Island Elite League star, respectively), which concluded with an appearance at NHL Media Day last week.

It’s been a rise that the definitively Western Canadian comedy tandem couldn’t have ever imagined. Not this soon. Not ever.

“When we started in January and weren’t getting a ton of views, we actually went out to celebrate and drink beers because we hit 1,000 views on one of the videos,” Postanin recalled. “We were pumped on that.”

Fast forward to today, and the boys are now getting hundreds of thousands of views and likes with their posts on Instagram alone. Drew Doughty, Johnny Gaudreau, Jeff Carter and Wayne Simmonds are just some of the names that have participated in On the Bench’s instructional tutorials, with topics ranging from how to celebrate goals, how to tape sticks and how to block shots while wearing absolutely no equipment at all.

(The latter, from which we could gather, is as dangerous as it looks: “None of the boys in the NHL lay down to block soft pucks,” Ardown explained. “So why would we start?”)

On the Bench may have needed that potentially-combustible moment on the empty concrete for all of this to become a reality. But it continues to work because the idea (which, though wholly authentic, evokes comparisons to Canadian cult classics like Fubar and Letterkenny) is so easily identifiable to Canadians and those who understand the absurd nuances of hockey culture.

It’s evident in their schtick:

“It’s just who we are as people outside in the real world. We definitely add a bit more in the videos, but it’s always who we have been. Our personalities are very colourful, very outgoing. And we just wanted to put some fun back into the game.”

To the personas they will only momentarily deviate from:

“We picked names based on our specific shooting styles. When people watch the video, you see that Jacob only goes bar down and Olli is ripping post and in every time.”

Of course, their gear:

“We just thought ‘What’s super Canadian?’ Oly picked the Canadian tuxedo with the denim vest there,” said Ardown. “And I’m a sucker for plaid, personally, so I just grabbed one of my nicest plaid shirts, ripped the sleeves off and laced ‘er together so it looked even better. Cowboy hat, cowboy boots: those are just the essentials of Alberta life. The velcro sneakers, those are just for speed. I can run really fast. It’s just the things that helps us with the rockets, and really helps our game.”

And their Alberta toughness:

“We definitely pick up some injuries but it’s definitely worth it. We grew up playing hockey; it’s all part of the game. Chicks dig scars right?”

“Take a look at Jacob’s jersey,” Postanin chimed in. “It’s covered in blood.”

If you’re familiar with On the Bench, in recent weeks you probably picked up on the fact that there’s been a discernible uptick in production value in select videos. This is probably most evident in this hilarious segment with Jeff Carter:

The enhancements, however, are no indication that the boys are selling out or allowing their newfound fame to get to their heads.

No matter the location, camera or level of celebrity involved, from Day 1 On the Bench has aimed to accomplish the same thing when shooting. The boys’ sole mission is to continue spreading the basic fundamentals of hockey and life – or the “Fundies.”

Invited to share their wisdom in collaborations with athletes and teams in L.A., Boston, Arizona and New York throughout the summer months, the boys have been given a platform they couldn’t have possibly imagined due to the fact they’ve created a brand the NHL and other major organizations want a piece of.

It’s been enough to humble even these cocksure caricatures.

“Meeting all the guys, getting to shake their hands. Obviously they are guys we look up to watching the game. Great hockey players. For them to oblige us with filming, and hanging out with us, it’s an honour,” Ardown said.

But most evident to the fact that these Western Canadian boys – who can tolerate both a slap shot off the torso as well as a two-ounce shot of maple syrup – haven’t changed is that between their shoots, trips and appearances, they return to a simple life.

A mechanic, Ardown says he works six 12-hour shifts a week at the shop, while Postanin earns his living at an oil and gas plant in the Alberta energy sector.

Hard work and long hours, for sure. But plenty of time to dream up a big idea.

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