I decided today was a feel good movie type of day, and to fill that bill, I went with the 1992 classic, The Mighty Ducks starring the great Emilio Estevez and a veritable who’s who of child actors, many of whom have gone on to lead great acting careers.
The film starts off introducing us to a young Gordon Bombay getting a ‘pep’ talk, “If you miss you aren’t just letting me down, you’re letting your whole team down,” from his coach before heading out to make a penalty shot that would make or break the team’s goal of district champs in 1972. Bombay misses the shot and his hockey career is over before it even begins. Fast-forward 20 years and we see Bombay, lawyer at large 30-1 (he’ll claim 0 since he scored with one of the court officials) thinking his life is pretty sweet. After yet another win in the courtroom he decides to have a little fun with drinking and driving (the first of many lessons in the film) when he is pulled over and sentenced to 500 hours of community service coaching the District 5 youth hockey team.
The team is a ragtag bunch of kids who barely know which end of the stick is used to hit the puck, let alone where they should go once they have that figured out. Bombay takes what he learned from his coach when he played and begins yelling at his team to listen, and when that fails, he resorts to teaching his team to take dives and fake injury in order to raise their chances of winning. It doesn’t work out so well and Gordon is eventually confronted by one of his team members, Charlie Conway, played by an extremely young Joshua Jackson who convinces Gordon, along with some help from Gordon’s old friend Hans, who also owns the local hockey supply store, to develop his own form of coaching which leads to playing hockey with eggs, tying the goalie to the goal and having the team hit pucks at him, and playing catch with a football when warming up for a game.
Once Gordon decides he has to coach his own way and not the way his coach taught him, the team begins to pull together and grow, picking up a couple of figure skaters and a hard-hitting giant of a kid who breaks a lot of windows and can hit the goal one out of every five shots.
The team grows because of a rise in self-respect, respect for each other, and respect for Gordon. They aren’t just kids from a poor neighborhood any more. They’re better than they were, they aren’t District 5, they are the Ducks. The Mighty Ducks and they’re here to play hockey and have fun!
Once the ducks begin playing as a team, they start winning, thus begins the great montage of game clips leading up to the culmination of the film, the district finals against Gordon’s childhood team, and coach, the Hawks. The Ducks already lost to the Hawks early in the season when they were still lowly District 5, but they are more than ready for this final grudge match to claim the title. Throughout the final match we are kept in suspense, as the Hawks are stronger and faster and better players leaving the Ducks behind 2-0 in the first period. The Ducks manage to get their score back up and in the third period we are shown our first glimpse of the now legendary Flying V maneuver. The Flying V is exactly what it sounds like, when viewed from above it looks like the migratory flight pattern that ducks take when heading south. The puck is passed within the V as they fly down the ice and scoring a goal leaving us with a nail-biting 4-4 score. Then the penalty kicks in and the Ducks have one final chance to beat the Hawks. Gordon asks his team who should get to take the final shot and it is decided that Charlie should finish what the team began at the beginning of the season.
This is the time for Bombay to really shine and show his team, Charlie, and the audience watching, what he’s learned through his ordeals from dealing with work, his old coach, and becoming the coach he is now. He pulls Charlie aside and tells him “You may make it, you may not. But that doesn’t matter Charlie, what matters is that we’re here! Look around, who would have even thought we’d make it this far? One, two, three, triple deke. Take your best shot, I believe in you Charlie, win or lose.”
This may seem a little cheesy, but watch it and I dare you not to get a big goofy grin on your face. Yes, it may still be cheesy as heck but it’s a good message and you’ve got to love Disney and their not so subliminal messages to youth and adults alike.
The Mighty Ducks is a timeless story of the underdogs coming up to be heroes. It shows what sportsmanship should be. It shows what hockey used to be. Maybe it’s time for Vancouver to re-watch this classic and learn a thing or ten about what being a sports fan really means.