While there are many 90s sports movies that left a huge impact on my childhood, there are no other series I remember quite as fondly as The Mighty Ducks.
Although hockey has always conceded and played fourth fiddle in America to the other big sports, it’s always been my personal favorite. I love the speed, the intensity, the finesse, the precision, and the bloodshed associated with Canada’s national pastime. Despite the fact that the Flyers haven’t won a Stanley Cup since the 70s, I’ll always be a die hard puckhead. It is for this reason that the Mighty Ducks film franchise holds a special place in my heart.
The film chronicles the exploits of one Gordon Bombay, a shamed Pee Wee Hockey failure who missed a penalty shot that could have won his team the championship. Fast forward to his adult life and he’s a sleazy, cutthroat Minneapolis lawyer with a chip on his shoulder. After winning a case in a particularly slimy fashion, Bombay is chastised by his boss for his antics. In a moment of weakness and depression, he chugs beer and drives around carelessly in a snow storm, attracting the attention of local police.
As a result of his DUI, Bombay is sentences to community service and is forced to coach the local District 5 Pee Wee hockey team. Although he grew up playing hockey, his memories of his overly competitive coach and his own personal failures overshadow his love of the sport.
Ironically, his team’s first match is against his old coach and his old team, the Hawks. After being brutally beaten, Bombay tears his team apart and the players challenge his authority as a coach. Instead of trying to win over the kids in the next game, however, Coach Bombay tries to teach his players to cheat, dive, and draw penalties. It’s only after consulting with his old mentor that Bombay realizes that he’s been going about this coaching thing all wrong. He admits that he gave up on the sport after losing his father four months before the dreaded championship game and his mentor convinces him to rekindle his love of hockey.
After begging his boss, Mr. Ducksworth, to sponsor the team, Bombay gives the kids a complete makeover and outfits them with new equipment and a new team name. The Mighty Ducks are born. With some skills, equipment, and a new team attitude on their hands, the kids seem unstoppable. Adding to the mix are 3 new recruits as well: figure-skating siblings and the ultimate asskicker known as Fulton. On an unrelated note, there’s nothing quite like seeing a young Danny Tamberelli in an iconic movie role. Every time he’s on screen I keep hoping he’ll lift up his arm and reveal his Petunia tattoo from “The Adventures of Pete & Pete.”
Shortly thereafter, Coach Bombay learns that the star player on the Hawks, Adam Banks, is actually supposed to be playing on their team according to district rules. After threatening his old coach to transfer Banks to the Ducks, the kids overhear a sarcastic comment by Bombay and take it out of context, once again turning on him.
Bombay is approached by Mr. Ducksworth to make a deal and allow Banks to stay on the Hawks in exchange for keeping his job, but Bombay refuses since it would be against the rules. Bombay decides to accept his dismissal instead of letting his team down.
The Ducks players are initially skeptical and mean to Banks upon his arrival, but his assistance in a crucial victory alleviates their doubts and he is finally accepted as a member of the team. The Ducks fight hard the rest of the season and eventually make their way into the championship against the Hawks. The Hawks play dirty and injure Banks, taking him out of the game and severely hurting the Ducks’ chances of a victory. It is only through the power of the flying v and the triple deke that the Ducks are able to rally against the huge obstacles in front of them and rally together to win the Pee Wee Hockey Championship.
After the celebration, Bombay gets ready to board a bus headed to a minor league hockey tryout. Despite his reservations about playing against guys much younger than he is, he receives some familiar advice and words of encouragement from the Ducks and decides to go through with it, promising his team that he will be back the following season to coach them in defense of their title.
Simply put, I am in love with this film. From a 90s cultural standpoint, it doesn’t get much better than this in terms of sports films aimed at kids. Also, any film that brings hockey into the mainstream I’d consider a win in my book.
While many reviews I’ve read online have called this movie cliche, paint-by-numbers, and underwhelming, I have to call those people fucking idiots. Yes, I’m aware that there’s a similar formula used in so many other 90s sports movies for kids, but it’s a formula that works. Every hopeless team needs a fat kid, a good looking but humble protagonist, an enforcer, a nerd, a girl who has to prove she can play with the boys, and a coach who has to find his way. There’s a reason stereotypes exist and it’s because people can relate to them.
If you really can’t find anything to love about this film, then I’ll give you 10 good ones:
10. Gordon Bombay’s Drunk Driving
Gordon Bombay’s license plate reads “JUST WIN” and that’s just what he’s doing as he speeds down a snowy Minnesota street chugging brews and getting his swerve on. If it wasn’t for the Minneapolis police department totally cock-blocking him on his 80s-rock-themed booze cruise, it would have been a great night. Regardless, it’s a bad ass introduction to a character who will go on to redeem himself and lead a rag tag group of misfit kids to Pee Wee hockey glory.
9. The Worst Pep Talk In Sports History
I consider Gordon Bombay’s first post-game pep talk to be one of the worst motivational speeches in the history of athletic competition. He insults not only their hockey playing ability, but also their intelligence and ability to follow directions. Its everything a discerning parent would want out of their child’s athletic coach. It’s so amazing that it must be quoted in its full glory:
“Shut up! You guys stink. I thought we came here to play hockey. Oh, you think it’s funny? You think losing is funny? You didn’t listen to a word I said. I said keep your heads up, you put your heads down. I said hustle, you went slower. That was the sloppiest playing I’ve ever seen. Why the hell don’t you just listen to me? I don’t care. You want to lose? Fine. You’re the ones who look like idiots out there.”
8. Fulton’s Slap Shot
Every good hockey team needs at least one enforcer and Fulton is the Mighty Ducks’ secret weapon. Although he only hits 1 in 5 of his monstrous slap shots, his strength is enough to put pants-shitting fear into the hearts of his unlucky opponents.
7. New Equipment Montage
Any 90s movie worth its weight in VHS tape stock deserves at least one montage. Luckily, the Mighty Ducks delivers with several of these bad boys. The hockey equipment montage is the first of many and it shows just how awesome of an experience it is getting all kinds of new and expensive shit for free. Thank you, Mr. Ducksworth.
6. Rollerblading Montage
Like I said already, montages are the bread and butter of any decent 90s movie, but they’re even more potent and enjoyable when they’re also about rollerblading. Fulton, the aforementioned bruiser, doesn’t know how to ice skate and Gordon Bombay decides that there’s no better way for him to learn than to place his overgrown ass into a crowded mall and let him run wild on rollerblades. The epic old lady shove into the fountain at the end is the icing on the cake of this fantastic montage moment.
5. Ducks Uniform Speech
Unleashing another incredibly heartfelt speech, Gordon Bombay presents his loser team with some shiny new duds and a team-first attitude inspired by some flying, semi-aquatic birds. Again, this is a speech worth quoting in its entirety:
“I didn’t have a choice. We’re being sponsored. Hey, you don’t want to be ducks? You’d rather be district 5? Some stupid number? I’ll have you know, Peter, that the duck is one of the most noble, agile, and intelligent creatures of the animal kingdom. Have you guys ever seen a flock of ducks flying in perfect formation? Beautiful. Pretty awesome the way they all stick together. Ducks never say die. Ever seen a duck fight? No way. Why? Because the other animals are afraid. They know that if they mess with one duck, they gotta deal with the whole flock. I’m proud to be a duck and I’d be proud to fly with any one of you. So how bout it, who’s a duck? Now, we’re the ducks! The Mighty Ducks!”
4. Goldberg The Goalie
Being a native Philadelphia suburbanite who pretends he’s from Philadelphia proper, I’ve always been partial to characters in films who are from the city of brotherly love. The Mighty Ducks’ goalie, Goldberg, is no exception. He’s always sporting Flyers jerseys and talking about his love of Philadelphia. Despite his lack of courage when it comes to stopping pucks and his rancid flatulence, there’s not much to dislike about the guy. This scene showcases his transition from fat, ineffectual softy to fat, growling badass.
3. The Flying V
One of my favorite secret strategies the Mighty Ducks employ to fight their way to the top is the flying v. Skating in a giant offensive v that makes its way down the ice as one and scores instantly, it’s a truly terribly strategy that leaves their goal completely unattended, but it’s the kind of fake movie magic moment that makes my heart flutter like some sappy fuckbag.
2. The Triple Deke
Charlie Conway doesn’t believe in himself or his abilities and neither do his teammates. When he’s blatantly hooked by some Hawks douche tool on the last play of the game, the Mighty Ducks are awarded a penalty shot and anyone is allowed to take it. Despite the misgivings of the rest of the team and Charlie himself, Coach Bombay decides that Charlie is the guy and tells him that win or lose, he got there and he believes in him. This false vote of confidence leads to Charlie pulling out the infamous triple deke move and smoking the chump goalie like his name is Ilya Bryzgalov. The team celebrates on the ice after their victory and Coach Bombay gets to hoist the Pee Wee Hockey Championship trophy for the first time in his life.
1. Cake Eater
Full of attitude and smack talk, Jesse Hall is one of the most memorable players on the Mighty Ducks. His greatest contribution to the film franchise as well as the vernacular of 90s kids everywhere was the Minnesota-centric insult targeted at rich, overprivileged people that he refers to as “cake eaters.” His favorite targets of the insult are Coach Bombay and the ex-Hawks star, Adam Banks. Over the course of the ups and downs of the film, it almost becomes a term of endearment. To be honest, “cake eater” is still my low blow of choice when I’m backed into a corner and making an illogical argument. It’s the insult that trumps all other insults and I want to personally thank Jesse Hall for bringing it into my life.