Ice Hockey in the Dark – part two, now you won’t be in the dark about ice-hockey will you? Will you?…Come back…

These articles were originally written around 2013 for the now defunct Iceman UK ice hockey news/views/reviews website I decided to republish them in case they solicited any interest – spelling mistakes an all!

Hockey in the Dark – part two

Yes fans, your favourite rambling fool has concluded the ice hockey films short review. You should have seen the e-mails, letters and text-messages I received after Iceman published the first part. Despite this, I carried on and wrote this.

Please enjoy my take on some more recent ice hockey films, if can’t well just read it anyway and get angry, really angry…..

The first on this diatribe is Youngblood.

To me, this is the anti-Slap Shot film, although I do know that it is very popular with some hockey fans. The problem I always had with it was its ‘not in the slightest bit realistic’ portrayal of the game of ice hockey or the life around it.
Fighting – yes it is part of ice hockey, yes it is a big part of ice hockey in Canada, stick fighting like knights on the ice? Bye-bye, you’re banned for a very long time.

‘My dad never lost a fight’ this merely means he never had a fight, any hockey player in any league will tell on any given night you can get a pummelling.
So we get this giant monster who only plays because he is good at fighting, and nothing else, who ends up getting his clock cleaned by the skilled player, who learned to fight in a week. Oh come on, it’s like Slap Shot was never made.

This seems to me to be a film for kids made by people who sort of knew about hockey but weren’t really keen on it. It has Patrick Swayze, who has never convinced me in any film, (this did not change that view) Keanu Reeves, Rob Lowe, yes that’s right they’re in this film – trouble is at the time it was more a case of ‘who’ rather than ‘wow’. To be fair everyone tries hard with the material they have got to play with but the film fails as a romantic drama and fails as a hockey drama too.

Too many clichés and too many ‘this is what hockey is about’ tropes in this film. Too many beautiful goals. Does anyone score scrappy, scrambles in these games? Yet again the penalty shot – I think it was about three season before I saw one awarded in open play and the other usual ‘I’ve got time to discuss the game and skate around unmolested during a match’ scene. It seems like someone’s idea of ice hockey rather than the actual reality.

I’m afraid I would giving this a 10-minute misconduct at the least or put it another way I can only watch 10 minutes of it at a time.

Title: Youngblood
Year: 1986
Director: Peter Markle
Starring: Rob Lowe, Cynthia Gibb, Patrick Swayze

That defenceman is all over our centre, I guess we should get down there and help him, but first, tactics….
“That defenceman is all over our centre, I guess we should get down there and help him, but first, tactics….”

Into the 90s and a real curate’s egg, or puck, of a film, well for me anyway.
Lots and lots of people love this film and the sequels. For me it was enjoyable but was really as much about ice hockey as Youngblood, it gets away with it more than Youngblood because it clearly was made for youngsters and was not meant to be taken seriously whilst delivering the usual story of a plucky, wrong-side-of-the-tracks, team that comes good in the end, after they learn to be team and work for each other….if only life were like this.

Taken as Disney film without thinking about it and this is as enjoyable as any type of feel-good film of the time and probably better than most.

Sit down and think about it and you soon find even the simple story really was built on a foundation of sand and seemed to have no basis in hockey, pee-wee or otherwise.

One point though, we did get the worse NHL team name ever from this film, so it will go down in history for that.

Yes, it is The Mighty Ducks.

Gordon Bombay a drink-driving, arrogant, self-centred, corporate lawyer is sentenced to community service (looking after a kids pee-wee team) after being caught drink-driving. Hang on? A drink-driving idiot is let loose among impressionable kids that need guidance. Good idea.

Only it turns out Gordon is a former pee-wee, junior ice hockey player, ‘who ruled the juniors’ [according to Mike Modano anyway] but more or less was ruined and gave up after missing a penalty shot in a championship game.

Another penalty shot.

I think the coaches in Canada need to stamp out the need for players to haul down players on breakaways in championship finals. Every single one seems to feature a penalty shot that will win the game.

It needs to be said that overall this is a kids film so everything should be taken with a pinch of salt but somehow this never caught my imagination.

If nothing else it is a great film-goers guide to sports clichés and as the series went the further it moved away from the real game of ice-hockey, although to give credit where credit is due they did try to address this in the last film.

A much better film in this genre is ‘Bad News Bears’ which is basically what this film should have been but on ice.

Title: The Mighty Ducks
Year: 1992
Director: Steven Brill
Starring: Emilio Estevez, Joss Ackland, Lane Smith

Tiger Williams had his fill of ‘quack, quack, ****ing quack’
Tiger Williams had his fill of ‘quack, quack, ****ing quack’

From the kid’s film full of silliness we go to very much a serious and adult film that was made for TV, so you may not have seen it. I talk of Net Worth.

Hockey action is thin on the ground but the story in intriguing, irritating and above all, even if partly factual, a source of shame for the NHL.

Based on a book by David Cruise, who also wrote the screen-play and made by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and full of well-known Canadian actors if anyone was going to get a hockey story correct you would imagine this would be the one.

Set in the very tough world of the 1950s NHL it follows the career of an original tough guy ‘Terrible’ Ted Lindsay and All-Star for the Red Wings. After finding an ex-team mate selling signed ice-hockey sticks to afford to live outside a game because he couldn’t get to his pension, Ted’s eyes are [or were I suppose] opened to the appalling treatment of NHL players, especially compared to other professional sports in North America at the time.

Lindsay tries to form a Player’s Association to help protect his playing colleagues, foes and friends alike, from their exploitative treatment from the club’s owners.

Surely some of the facts are presented to the audience to manipulate their views and side with the players but it is well known the NHL has never been a stable or fair organisation at virtually any time in its history.

It is a crying shame that some of those double-dealing, dishonest men you exploited the public and their stars were then honoured by having conferences, divisions and awards named after them.

An interesting and shameful tale that kept me watching to the end. Admittedly the players shown were being paid a lot more money than the average working man at the time, so some of their complaints would seem churlish to the viewer but the owners were making an absolute fortune from these men.

With this film being well acted and interesting, after it had finished I immediately went and looked up Ted Lindsay’s stats for the NHL. He was some player, and his heart was in the right place too if Net Worth is anything to go by.

I feel Net Worth is worth two hours of any fans time for sure.

Title: Net Worth
Year: 1995
Director: Jerry Ciccoritti
Starring: Aidan Devine, Kevin Conway, Robin Gammell

Ted Lindsay could be very persuasive when it came to joining the NHL Players’ Association
Ted Lindsay could be very persuasive when it came to joining the NHL Players’ Association

From one legend to another.

Ten years after ‘Net Worth’ came along a film about Maurice Richard known as The Rocket, The Legend of Rocket Richard.

I haven’t seen this film I’ll admit, I want to but in the UK it is fairly hard to get hold of.

In the 1930s, Maurice Richard was a young machinist but his real talent was as an almost super-human-powered, talented, ice hockey player. It wasn’t long before the Montreal Canadiens came knocking on his door. Things did not go well early in his career when injuries caused his confidence and that of the fans to wane. Richard in overcoming these setbacks became one of the most skilful and toughest players to ever tie on a set of skates. Not only is this film a focus for the immensely talented Richard but it highlights his and his fellow French Canadians struggle against discrimination in the NHL which was dominated by English speakers. Richard has to speak out against this injustice and this leads to conflict within the league that culminated in his 1955 season suspension that in turn lead to an ethnic riot in protest.

Yet another dark chapter in the history of the NHL and a chapter that should have a light shone on it so it cannot be hidden away in some dark, dusty, corner and forgotten.

Reading online reviews from people that have actually watched the film apparently most of the scenes depicted are historically accurate and the film was reviewed by Richard and his family himself. So bearing that in mind the utter racism, bigotry and downright ignorance that is displayed happened. Not only did they happen but they happened to a man who brought in the fans that made money for the owners and players.

Just for that paragraph, this film has to be sought out and watched.

One film reviewer compares this to ‘Cinderella Man’ which is certainly worth watching, although with a Ron Howard mangle on that film I recommend the amazing book which tells the true story. This comparison should give you an idea what this film is like.

I don’t know about you lot but I’m watching this film…

Title: The Rocket: The Legend of Rocket Richard
Year: 2005
Director: Ken Scott
Starring: Roy Dupuis, Stephen McHattie, Julie LeBreton

The Rocket says 'Just say that again'. We dare you…
The Rocket says ‘Just say that again’. We dare you…

A lot of films have been missed off this list but the revival of a comedic ice hockey film was most welcome in 2011. Jay Baruchel helped write and starred in the Goon which was his attempt at making a modern classic in the mould of the all-time classic Slap Shot.

Interestingly enough the film is based on a real hockey players story, Doug Smith and enforcer in minor league hockey. With Baruchel and Seann William Scott in this film you are going to get crude language and humour. Luckily the simple and honest character of Doug ‘The Thug’ Glatt raises this above what could have been a horrible film. Doug is nice, a bit dull, but nice and generally kind and loyal, he just happens to be good at fighting and thumping people. This likability of the character is the foundation the whole film is based on. If he was horrible the film wouldn’t work. Scott, ably backed up by the cute as a button Alison Pill [at the time Jay Burchel’s girlfriend] puts in a good comedic and lovable performance. His best for some time.

The ice hockey fraternity is shown in a fairly good light, macho, posturing and very strange and daft but overall you know they are okay really. Even the impressive and wholly believable Liev Schreiber as Doug’s big rival Ross ‘The Boss’ Rhea is shown with a great deal of sympathy and depth in what could have been a purely ‘Sir Jasper Naughty Bonce’ role.

This is a sports comedy and therefore works perfectly but there is pathos and tears mixed in there, which to my mind all good comedy should have.

The answers to the effect Doug’s ‘job’ in ice hockey has on those around him given a slight airing near the end of the film. If there is criticism of this film then this question not being addressed fully is the only black mark I have against it.

I know that the film is a comedy and I have watched it, several times, and take it on that level but I can’t help thinking that the hilarious celebration of pounding someone very hard in the face, and doing damage has no real consequences.

Perhaps Goon is not the film for that discussion but I do feel it reinforces the views of a majority of young man who are involved in the sport and watch it. It did leave me with a slight unease whilst I was laughing, particularly with the recent spate of deaths among the retired NHL enforcer community.

Put this to one side and Goon is easily an instant favourite ice-hockey film alongside Slap Shot. Not as good, but certainly not very far behind.

If you don’t mind a bit of proper, way past the Pale, crudity and some proper, no flinching, violence, and you love ice-hockey, you’ll love this.

Title: Goon
Year: 2005
Director: Michael Dowse
Starring: Seann William Scott, Jay Baruchel, Alison Pill

Liev Schreiber realises that ‘thinking outside the box’ was not an option for this role
Liev Schreiber realises that ‘thinking outside the box’ was not an option for this role

Well that’s my pontificating about films for the Iceman UK. I realise that most of you will not agree with a word I wrote, or wonder what an earth I am going on about but I hope that you may have a found a film on my admittedly small list that you had never contemplated watching or had indeed heard of.

Without being presumptuous I would even say, give them all a viewing and see what you think.

Perhaps you could let Iceman know you think? It couldn’t be worse than this….

As with every list and piece of research there are going to be some items that fell by the wayside and didn’t make the cut. So please find below a list of films that found themselves in the rarely used fourth line:

Miracle (2004)
Miracle tells the true story of Herb Brooks who led the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team to victory over the once thought unbeatable Russians.

Mystery, Alaska (1999)
A Mike Myers comedy is about a small Alaskan town whose ice-hockey team gets picked to host a televised event. It is not very good

Les Boys (1997)
A light-hearted comedy about the ins and outs of a Canadian ice hockey team.

Broad Street Bullies (2010)
A documentary about the Philadelphia Flyers who based a lot of their tactics on intimidation and violence, a lot of it. Some people loved them, others said it would see the death of ice-hockey. Here’s the documentary for you to judge.

Yup the first article was just as bad
Yup, the first article was just as bad

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