IFC is mostly known for quirky shows like Portlandia, but their latest show is something a sports fan can relate to. It's called Benders, and it's a comedy about a group of bros in New York that play low-level amateur hockey together—think The League, but with real sports. On Thursday, the cast members got an upgrade in competition: They actually skated with living, breathing NHL players.
The show's stars, Andrew Schulz, Chris Distefano, Mark Gessner and Lindsey Broad, joined New York Rangers forward Jarret Stoll, defenseman Dylan McIlrath, forward Emerson Etem and backup goalie Antti Raanta for a skills competition in New York City's Central Park. Since the talent gap was pretty large (although probably not much larger than what you'll see in the Rangers' upcoming match against the last-place Toronto Maple Leafs), they divided into teams of two and two: the Blue Shirts (Stoll, Etem, Schulz and Broad) versus the Broadway Hats (McIlrath, Raanta, Gessner and Distefano).
The cast members had varying degrees of hockey fandom and skating experience. Gessner played hockey in high school and has been a die-hard Rangers fan since he was a child, even while growing up among Bruins fans in northern Vermont. Distefano, a Brooklyn resident, had limited skating experience but said he recently became a New York Islanders fan because the team moved to the Barclays Center.
Schulz had never been a hockey fan, as he had an ex-girlfriend from Canada and spent the following years distancing himself from all things Canadian. (He called Benders his “rebound show.”) Broad hadn't skated since she was 14 and admitted to knowing nothing about hockey, but she was still confident.
“What if I ended up being the best of everybody?” Broad said, a prediction that would turn out to be prophetic.
The other cast members were equally fired up, and some of them even had bits of trash talk towards Jarret Stoll, who was standing nearby talking on his phone.
“His half beard is a little too handsome,” Gessner said. "I wish I could grow one like that. But I say that in a mean way.”
“Who's that guy from American Sniper? Bradley Cooper? He looks like a s------r version of him,” Schulz added.
Stoll returned the favor with a quote of his own.
“I don't know how good of skaters they're going to be, but I can imagine they're not great,” he said.
The skaters took the ice (which was slowly transforming into a swimming pool in the 70-degree weather), and all eight were announced by Kenny Albert, the radio voice of the Rangers. Stoll, Etem, Raanta and McIlrath glided to center ice, while the cast members were a tad less graceful.
The first event was a relay race, in which the Shirts narrowly edged the Hats on a last-second push from Schulz. They then lined up for the main event, a shooting competition. Each Rangers goal counted as one point while a Benders goal counted as two, since, well, the Rangers are professional hockey players who've spent their entire lives training, and the other guys are actors.
The Blue Shirts jumped out to an early lead thanks to Stoll, who rifled two shots past the target and into the goal. His teammate Broad then fulfilled her prophecy and netted three goals, although they couldn't have traveled faster than 10 miles per hour (one failed to even reach the target). Her form wasn't exactly fundamentally sound, but she scored six points and, yes, was technically the best player on the ice.
Distefano looked strong early, but ended up face planting on the ice after swinging too hard.
Luckily, his teammate Gessner came out to help him up.
McIlrath and Etem fired some hard slapshots, but several of them hit the crossbar or narrowly missed the netting. Even backup goalie Raanta had some nice-looking shots, but the last one traveled far right and clanked against the siding.
At the end, the Blue Shirts ran away with a 13-6 victory. All of the skaters then convened at center ice for handshakes and a group photo.
In addition to the Central Park promo, the Benders cast will also be in attendance for the Rangers' home game against the Washington Capitals next Tuesday.