As the 2018 NHL All-Star Break comes to an end, it’s the perfect time to unwind and catch up on some movies outside of the jam packed All-Star weekend festivities in Tampa and 60th annual GRAMMY Awards that were on Sunday night.
While searching through movie titles something very obvious occurred to me– there are no good hockey movies.
Okay, Miracle (2004) is the only exception, but The Mighty Ducks series, Goon (2011) and its sequel Goon: Last of the Enforcers (2017), Youngblood (1986) and Slap Shot (1977) are all trash as far as this hockey-fan/movie-watcher is concerned.
In retrospect, this post would’ve made more sense on the heels of last year’s All-Star Game in Los Angeles– because, you know, Hollywood— but it is what it is.
There are great parts in every hockey movie, but none of them (again, except Miracle) really capture all the highs and lows of the sport without grossly romanticizing them to the point that they become overly commercialized fads (looking at you Mighty Ducks).
Lesser known hockey documentaries, Ice Guardians (2016) and Pond Hockey (2008) are lightyears beyond hockey comedy, Slap Shot, and all of its sequels (that’s right, there’s a Slap Shot 2: Breaking the Ice (2002) and a Slap Shot 3: The Junior League (2008) and they never should have happened).
But I get it, not everyone’s going to theaters or logging into Netflix for documentaries.
People want to see drama, blood, sweat, violence, tears, heartbreak and well… stupidity– like any Will Ferrell movies that involves Mark Wahlberg.
It might just be my particular taste in film, but there’s so many better options for hockey movies that mimic real life or are based on true stories. In the interest of time (and so nobody steals my ideas and makes a film without me involved), here’s a few quick ideas based on things that have actually happened/are part of hockey lore.
Leatherheads (2008) directed by and starring George Clooney (also starring Renée Zellweger, Jonathan Pryce and John Krasinski) was a fun comedy set in the 1920s focusing on the early days of professional football in America.
Sure it was a comedy, but if you’re a history buff, you appreciate everything Clooney and crew did to make it feel like history was alive and well– both in the production of the film and its plot that was loosely based on both George Halas’s signing of University of Illinois star turned Chicago Bears-pro, Red Grange, and the Duluth Eskimos.
Hockey has its own comedic elements in the early days of the sport and it’s got a lot of history.
Like the time the Dawson City Nuggets tried to dropkick the Stanley Cup over the Rideau Canal after losing the 1905 Stanley Cup Challenge to Ottawa. It really wasn’t that much of a comedic affair, but it’s fun to think about how the Stanley Cup was almost lost 113-years ago. Especially considering the circumstances.
But the Nuggets shouldn’t have even been in Ottawa to begin with– and that’s besides the travel interruptions the team overcame.
Some of the players on the Dawson City club set out from Yukon Territory by dogsled while the rest left via bicycle to get to Whitehorse in mid-December. The plan was to get to Whitehorse and catch a train to Skagway, Alaska, then board a steamship to Vancouver, British Columbia and finally ride a train from Vancouver to Ottawa with plenty of time to spare before the Challenge best-two-out-of-three series would begin on Friday, January, 13, 1905.
It did not go as planned.
Players had to walk several hundred miles from Dawson City to Whitehorse because the weather turned warm enough to thaw the roads. In Whitehorse, the weather worsened and trains did not run for a few days, which caused the team to miss their boat to Skagway. Seasickness, ice build up and another three days of delay led to the a foggy Vancouver coastline that forced the steamer to Seattle.
From there, the Nuggets rode a train to Vancouver, then boarded another one to from Vancouver to Ottawa– finally arriving in Canada’s capital on January 11. Ottawa Hockey Club refused to reschedule the date of the first game, but let the visiting club from Dawson City use their facilities for the duration of the tournament.
Anyway, Dawson City’s best player couldn’t get to Ottawa in time for the games and the Nuggets lost the first game 9-2.
Then the most lopsided Stanley Cup victory occurred in game two.
Ottawa defeated the Nuggets, 23-2. Ottawa superstar and inaugural Hockey Hall of Fame member, Frank McGee (who would go on to serve and be killed in action in World War I), scored 14 goals in the Cup winning game.
After the traditional banquet, some players got a little carried away and well, the Cup was found on the frozen canal the next day, so all is good.
Then there’s the time NHL president Clarence Campbell suspended Montreal Canadiens forward, Maurice Richard, for the remainder of the 1954-55 season– including playoffs.
Long story short, after a violent series of incidents in a game against the Boston Bruins at Boston Garden on March 13, 1955, Richard punched linesman, Cliff Thompson, twice in the face.
Boston police attempted to arrest Richard in the dressing room after the game, but were stopped by Canadiens players and eventually persuaded by Bruins management that the league would handle everything.
Thompson was knocked unconscious and the league felt they needed to get their message across to the fiery-tempered, gifted-goalscorer, Richard after having fined him $250 earlier that season for slapping a linesman in Toronto.
Campbell called for everyone involved to be part of a hearing at his office in Montreal on March 16.
At the hearing, Richard admitted he was dazed and thought Thompson was a Boston player. The ensuing suspension was the longest ever handed out by Campbell.
Richard had actually tried to ease Montreal fans’s tensions and accepted his punishment.
But the story doesn’t end there.
French-speaking Quebecers were subject to many ethnic slurs and squalid conditions in 1950s Québec. Most of Québec’s industries were controlled or owned by Americans or English Canadians at the time.
The largely Francophone fan base in Montreal protested the suspension, viewing Richard’s French Canadian ethnicity as motivation for its severity.
Outside of the Canadiens fan base, many thought it was justified.
Despite death threats, on March 17, Campbell attended Montreal Forum for the Canadiens’s first game since Richard’s suspension.
Hundreds of angry Canadiens fans and those who were upset with the perceived slight against French Canadians gathered in the Forum lobby in protest. The crowd grew to thousands, police got involved and tensions went south.
Inside the arena, a fan attempted to shake hands with Campbell, then promptly slapped and punched the league president. Shortly thereafter a tear-gas bomb was set off.
A full-scale riot ensued.
It even has its own Wikipedia page and some consider it to be a factor in Québec’s Quiet Revolution of the 1960s.
Talk about something that’s made for its own two-hour feature film.
Finally, do you love love? Do you love more riots
and love-able losers?
Hockey has its own Fever Pitch (2005) love story.
After the Vancouver Canucks lost Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final on home ice to the Boston Bruins, fans in the viewing area outside Rogers Arena became unruly.
Cars were flipped over and set on fire, businesses were damaged and windows were smashed, meanwhile a Canadian woman, Alex Thomas, with her Australian boyfriend, Scott Jones, were caught in the fracas.
You might remember the photo from the night. You know, the one of the two of them kissing on the ground after Thomas was knocked over by police and Jones attempted to calm her down.
Chaos all around them, but love, man. Real, true love.
Anyway, it’s a story that writes itself for Hollywood, considering the Fever Pitch makers were hoping that’s how it would’ve gone (or something similar) with the Boston Red Sox in 2004, whereby two fans would’ve suffered through the usual lows and disappointment of yet another Red Sox season only to have each other after one of them almost gives up their season tickets and love the for game.
But the Red Sox won the World Series that year and Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore got to celebrate on the field or whatever… the point is Vancouver has been part of the league since 1970, made the Stanley Cup Final in 1982, 1994 and 2011 and lost all three of them.
And these two fans were there through it all (at least in 2011) and for each other.
They could totally pull off what Fever Pitch was meant to do, but for hockey.