For right-thinking people, the most important day of 2017 is October 4th. Why? It’s the start of the National Hockey League season. Duh. It’s September now, and the NHL is in its preseason. Time for all of us to gear up by ordering our team replica sweaters (to use the Canadian term for the uniform shirt) and watching a few of my favorite hockey movies.
There are a few events in my life for which I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news. Generally, these are bad news events (assassinations, disasters, etc.), but there is one good one: the news that the US Men’s Hockey team had beaten the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics. I was riding in a car with my friend Eric from Minneapolis to Black River Falls, WI. The game was not broadcast live (amazingly enough) and we heard the news on the car radio. In the crepuscular light of day driving out of Minneapolis there came a breaking news announcement (this being Minnesota) on the radio: “We interrupt with breaking news. In one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history, the US Men’s Hockey Team defeated the Soviet Union moments ago in Lake Placid.” Eric and I pulled over and started cheering and crying. On top of everything else that is great about this movie and makes it worthy of watching over and over, it also has Patricia Clarkson in the role of Patti Brooks. In case you didn’t know, Patricia Clarkson is perfect in every way.
You might not want to have the kids around when you watch this great comedy. Paul Newman stars as the aging player/coach of a minor league hockey team. Goofy, violent, and incredibly funny, this movie (which has achieved cult-movie status among its many fans) is also one of the most foul-mouthed movies ever made.
Another minor league hockey gem. Seann William Scott plays a dim-witted bartender who beats up a fan for yelling a homophobic slur at a player. Because of this, he gets a roster slot on the team as the enforcer (or “goon” as hockey fans call them), a role that diverges from his kind-hearted nature. From a script by Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg (who also co-wrote Superbad and Pineapple Express), the cast also includes Liev Schreiber and Eugene Levy.
A wonderful and inspiring tale about a town hockey team in the fictional town of Mystery, Alaska, which somehow manages to play an exhibition game against the NHL’s New York Rangers. A star-studded cast that includes Russell Crowe, Hank Azaria, Mary McCormack, Lolita Davidovich, Colm Meaney, and Burt Reynolds. Script is by David E. Kelley and Sean O’Byrne. Kelley is mainly known as a TV writer, having created a number of legal dramas, including, most recently, the award-winning Goliath. Jay Roach directs.
You’ve probably never heard of this one, but it is a completely charming French-language film from Quebec about a tavern hockey team of oddball characters. My favorite is the sleazy real estate agent/right winger. I admired him because I grew up playing right wing and was also a real estate agent at one point. A particularly unsuccessful one, I might add. In 2006, the absolute peak of the real estate boom in Southern California, I couldn’t sell a single house. I was just useless. The only Open House I held was so dead I took a nap on the couch of the place because nobody stopped by. In three hours. Pulled a blanket over myself and slept. Regardless, Les Boys is in the tradition of The Full Monty and really isn’t to be missed if you are a hockey fan of any kind. Two sequels were made.
I haven’t yet mentioned The Mighty Ducks (1992), but the first one is definitely worth another look. The original was charming, sweet-natured, and a completely surprising subject for a movie—youth hockey. It doesn’t have the subversive delights of a movie such as Bad News Bears (1976), but it’s a fun watch with the family. You can skip the sequels.
David Raether is a veteran TV writer and essayist. He worked for 12 years as a television sitcom writer/producer, including a 111-episode run on the ground-breaking ABC comedy “Roseanne.” His essays have been published by Salon.com, The Times of London, and Longforms.org, and have been lauded by The Atlantic Magazine and the BBC World Service. His memoir, Homeless: A Picaresque Memoir from Our Times is awaiting publication.