Had I seen it before: I think so? I’d at least seen bits and pieces of it on television but it had been a while so I don’t remember it super well.
Director: Stephen Herek
Writer: Steven Brill
Where you can stream it now: HBO (will move to Disney+ July 1, 2020)
What IMDb says: A self-centered Minnesota lawyer is sentenced to community service coaching a rag tag youth hockey team.
Why I picked it: I’ve been watching a lot of Dawson’s Creek lately and felt bad that I didn’t remember Joshua Jackson’s other claim to fame that well. I also just have a soft spot for feel good sports movies.
Hey, technically I’m gonna SPOIL this movie but also it’s from 1992 and pretty darn predictable anyway.
What I liked: The movie does a great job of building meaningful relationships between Gordon and the kids. It does a great job of making Gordon a complete dick in the beginning and letting him grow past that in a believable, albeit heavy handed way. His mentorship of Charlie in particular, especially the scenes outside of hockey, are quite well-done.
There’s something poetic about how Gordon’s obsession with winning, the very thing instilled in him by the Hawks’ coach, is the thing that inspires him to become a better coach and lead them to victory against the Hawks. Before hockey comes into the picture, we see Gordon boasting about the fact that he’s never lost a case as a lawyer, and claiming that the one he didn’t shouldn’t really count anyway. I don’t know that I can overstate how important these scenes are. After all, why WOULD a guy forced to coach a hockey team even try that hard? Couldn’t he just screw around and do nothing? But because Gordon’s ultra-competitive streak is ingrained in him from the beginning, it makes sense. He has a reason to want to win for completely selfish reasons. Gordon’s arc is interesting in how his actual objective (beat the Hawks) never really changes, but his reasons for wanting that objective do change. What starts as a personal vendetta turns into wanting the kids to learn the value of hard work and persistence.
Also, for some reason that’s hard to explain, anytime these small children start quacking at each other it just gets me. I love their unity and teamwork.
What I didn’t like: Even though this is a fairly consistent issue among this genre, it still annoys me that most of the children don’t really get to be fully fleshed out characters. There’s a goalie afraid of the puck, but we know nothing else about him. There’s a girl who can figure skate, and we know nothing else about her. We have a bad boy ringer who also plays football, but he needs to learn how to skate. For most of this team, we don’t even get that much. I wish we could’ve gotten a few more scenes of these children at home or at school and learning what makes each one unique compared to the rest of the team.
I also see absolutely no reason for the plotline where Gordon tries to poach one of the Hawks for his own team. I’ve never known of any local rec league to mandate that kids play for certain teams based on where they live. It feels like a bit of a betrayal to all the kids that have been working hard and are proud Ducks to essentially say “oh, but I need one of the Hawks on this team too.” The movie plays this off as Gordon finally learning that he has to play by the rules, and that doing what’s fair and right is more important than winning. Personally, I don’t buy it. If you were going to have a plotline like this, I think it could’ve been far more powerful to have one of the Hawks choose to leave his team because he was tired of its hyper-competitive culture and wanted to play with the Ducks because having fun and making friends was more important. But putting this much screentime into fighting over technicalities of which team this kid is supposed to play for? I would’ve rather been learning more about the Ducks.
Will I watch it again: At some point, I probably will. For one, I have a godson and at one point it will become my duty to educate him on feel good sports movies. Outside of that, I know my own tastes well enough to know.
Who would enjoy it: Anyone who likes sports movies and their various tropes. However, if stories that are overly predictable and formulaic tick you off, it might be one to skip.