Saturday, October 01, 2011
Written by Dave Sottile
Everybody has his or her favorite hockey movie.
Maybe it’s a rip-snorting comedy about a cast of minor-league misfits. Perhaps it’s a drama about one of the game’s greatest natural goal scorers or a team of amateurs who shocked the sports world.
Or maybe it’s a documentary that captures the pure joy of playing the game in its original outdoor splendor.
There is no shortage of candidates.
What follows is a list of 12 hockey films that all fans of the game should try to see at least once in their lives. There is no ranking one above the other, although everyone has their top choice. We’ve chosen to group them alphabetically.
So here we go. If we forgot one of your favorites, please let us know which one it is and what makes it so special to you.
“THE DEADLIEST SEASON” (1977)
The made-for-TV movie stars Michael Moriarty (“Law and Order”) as Gerry Miller, a defenseman for the fictitious Wisconsin Whalers. After being demoted to the minors by a coach who wants him to fight more, he returns to the big leagues a dirtier player.
During a particularly violent game, Miller assaults former teammate and friend Dave Eskanazi (Paul D’Amato), who ultimately dies from his injuries.
Miller is charged with manslaughter, and eager attorney George Graff (Kevin Conway) mounts a defense that calls into the question the very nature of hockey’s deep-seeded violence.
Academy Award winner Meryl Streep made her TV debut in the film playing Miller’s wife, Sharon.
“HAPPY GILMORE” (1996)
Sure, it’s really a golf movie at heart, but Adam Sandler’s title character is a failed hockey player who turns to another sport as a way to make money to save his grandmother’s house.
Blessed with the most powerful drive in golf history, Gilmore joins the PGA Tour in hopes of generating enough cash to prevent his beloved relative, who has already been evicted for failure to pay back taxes.
Sandler’s character spends quite a bit of time wearing Boston Bruins jerseys (both home and away), and there’s nothing like seeing Happy Gilmore duking it out with playing partner Bob Barker.
“IDOL OF THE CROWDS” (1937)
This 62-minute B-movie stars John Wayne as a hockey player threatened by mobsters for refusing to throw games.
Wayne’s Johnny Hanson has retired from the sport, but needs to make more money to finance improvements to his Maine chicken farm. A resulting comeback on skates powers his team to the championship series.
Criminals offer him a huge bribe to influence the outcome of the series, but Hanson refuses. The racketeers respond by trying to kill him, resulting in an injury to the team’s young mascot.
“KEEP YOUR HEAD UP, KID: THE DON CHERRY STORY” (2010)
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s made-for-TV movie chronicles the life of Don Cherry, a former minor-league defenseman who worked his way up to become an NHL head coach and iconic TV personality.
From humble roots in Kingston, Ontario, Cherry battled his way through a lengthy pro career that began with the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears during the 1954-55 season and ran through the spring of 1972, with many stops in between.
The movie script – written by Cherry’s son, Tim – tells the tale of a hockey player, his wife and family as they struggle through tough times along the road to a better life. Eventually, it pays off in a job coaching Bobby Orr and the Boston Bruins.
“THE MIGHTY DUCKS” (1992)
Emilio Estevez stars as Gordon Bombay, a former youth hockey player-turned-lawyer, who is ordered by a judge to coach a Minnesota youth team after being stopped for drunken driving.
The group of misfits (think “Bad News Bears” on skates) is the league’s worst, but its new coach helps revive the team’s fortunes. When the Ducks face a squad coached by Bombay’s old youth coach, Estevez’s character gets a chance at redemption of his own.
The movie’s success signaled Disney’s foray into hockey and eventually resulted in the company being rewarded with an NHL expansion franchise in Anaheim, Calif., that began play during the 1993-94 season.
Sparked by Kurt Russell’s inspired performance as coach Herb Brooks, this well-paced film revisits the story of the U.S. Olympic hockey team’s gold medal-winning performance at the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Games.
Brooks – the last man cut from the 1960 U.S. gold medal team – combined college players from warring Minnesota and New England factions into a cohesive squad that pulled off one of sports’ biggest upsets.
But long before Jim Craig, Mike Eruzione, Mark Johnson, Ken Morrow and Mike Ramsey helped shock the Russians en route to a stunning gold medal win against Finland, Brooks unified his troops by getting them all to agree on one thing: contempt for the man behind the bench.
Russell is masterful as the taskmaster Brooks, who plays mind games and physically punishes his players during the months leading up to the Olympics. And the on-ice scenes – mixed with actually footage of the Games, complete with Al Michaels’ famous “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” call on ABC – bring chills to even the most hardened hockey fan.
“MYSTERY, ALASKA” (1999)
An amateur team in the nation’s 49th state is chosen to play a televised game against the NHL’s New York Rangers in this comedy-drama starring Russell Crowe.
Before his Oscar-winning performance as Maximus in “Gladiator,” Crowe portrayed small-town sheriff John Biebe, a veteran member of the Mystery squad, which plays legendary games each week in front of area residents.
When former Mystery resident and current Sports Illustrated reporter Charles Danner (Hank Azaria) writes a story about the town and its team, a game against the NHL squad is set up.
The movie was filmed on location in Canmore, Alberta, and Banff National Park, just 16 miles away.
“POND HOCKEY” (2008)
Long before the “Winter Classics,” there was pond hockey. The latter inspired this documentary featuring interviews with the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Neal Broten and Sidney Crosby.
We see outdoor hockey played on various stages, from the backyard rink of the late Sports Illustrated writer Jack Falla to the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships on Lake Nokomis, Minn.
Broten, a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic goal medal hockey team, grew up in chilly Minnesota, when outdoor ice was omnipresent and always in demand. He mourns the lost connection between hockey and the elements.
“You drive by some of these (outdoor) rinks in the winter, and there’s nobody out there,” said Broten, the first American to tally 100 points in a season. “It’s kind of sad, actually.”
NHL players aside, the real stars of this movie are the little-known – and chilled – competitors in the pond hockey championships. It’s a nail-biter as the quest for the “golden shovel” comes down to overtime between teams dubbed the Federal League Allstars and Almost Forty.
“THE ROCKET: THE LEGEND OF ROCKET RICHARD” (2006)
The story of Maurice “The Rocket” Richard comes to life thanks to the talents of writer Ken Scott, director Charles Biname and actor Roy Dupuis, who created one of Canada’s most-lauded films.
The tale of Richard’s rise from up-and-coming phenom in Quebec to one of the NHL’s greatest goal scorers. It won nine Genies, Canada’s equivalent of the Oscars, including best actor (Dupuis), best actress (Julie LeBreton as Lucille Richard) and best director (Biname).
The movie chronicles Richard’s life from his earliest days to his record-setting Hall-of-Fame career with the Montreal Canadiens as one of the game’s first true Francophone superstars.
“SLAP SHOT” (1977)
For hockey fans, players, coaches and anyone else associated with the game, George Roy Hill’s masterpiece filmed in Johnstown, Pa., is the most-quoted film of all time.
Without this raunchy crowd pleaser, there would be no “puttin’ on the foil,” “making it look mean,” “I tried to capture the spirit of the thing,” “hit him with your purse” and “you feel shame” in hockey’s lexicon.
Academy Award winner Paul Newman stars as Reggie Dunlop, washed-up player-coach of the Charlestown Chiefs, a struggling minor-league franchise in an economically depressed Rust Belt market. Strother Martin plays Joe McGrath, the team’s cheapskate general manager.
The sad-sack Chiefs’ fortunes take a turn for the better after they turn to mayhem on ice, sparked by the arrival of the violent, quirky and bespectacled Hanson brothers (portrayed by real-life hockey players Jeff Carlson, Steve Carlson and Dave Hanson). The “old time hockey” helps turn the losers into winners.
Young star Ned Braden (Michael Ontkean) revolts against the hooliganism and clashes with Dunlop, who revels in the fans’ blood lust for the now-successful team. The philosophical differences between the college-educated Braden and the hardscrabble Dunlop are among the film’s best plotlines.
“SUDDEN DEATH” (1995)
This Jean-Claude Van Damme thriller uses Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena as the backdrop for a terrorist’s plot to hold the U.S. vice president hostage during a hockey game between the Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks.
Van Damme utilizes all of his martial arts moves to help save the day, including scenes where he pretends to be a player (and scores a goal), and fights a bad guy while wearing the Pens’ mascot costume.
There are all sorts of preposterous scenes, but the cast includes players Luc Robitaille, Bernie Nicholls, Markus Naslund and Jay Caufield, Penguins play-by-play legend Mike Lange, longtime ESPN analyst and former Philadelphia Flyer Bill Clement and Sidney Crosby’s future agent, Pat Brisson.
Smack in the middle of his Brat Pat heyday, Rob Lowe portrays Dean Youngblood, a New York prospect chasing his professional dreams by playing junior hockey in Canada.
Youngblood clashes with his Hamilton Mustangs coach Murray Chadwick (played by Ed Lauter), falls in love with the coach’s daughter, Kelly (Cynthia Gibb), and is befriended by teammate Derek Sutton (Patrick Swayze).
Lowe’s character faces the pressure of showing pro scouts he can fight if challenged during his time against other up-and-coming young players.
Keep an eye out for former NHL players Steve Thomas and the late Peter Zezel, cast as Youngblood’s teammates. Former Hershey Bears forward Don Biggs was Swayze’s on-ice double for all the star’s skating scenes.