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Blood on the ice

Hockey films that time forgot


Put on the foil, hockey fans! In honor of Miracle (reviewed this week by Susanna Sonnenberg), we’ve rounded up a bench-clearing brawl’s worth of slashing, hooking, cross-checking (and yes, occasionally heart-warming) hockey flicks for you. Cue stadium organ now.

Slap Shot (1977)

“Old-time hockey! Like Eddie Shaw!” The quintessential hockey picture, no question, the one that gave the sports world one of its most cherished movie creations: the Hanson brothers, a trio of boisterous, gleefully violent Canadian lunatics whose exploits galvanize an underdog small-town New England team on the eve of its liquidation. The Hanson brothers are so cool there’s even a Canadian punk band styled after them that writes only hockey-related songs. The eye-popping lineup of semi-retired goons introduced during the climactic championship game remains one of the most intriguing rogues’ galleries in the movies, too. (Andy Smetanka)

Youngblood (1986)

Quite the farm team of once-and-future associate Brat Packers, here, by Jove: Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves, in a pale reprise of the wacky-Quebecois Denis Lemieux character from Slap Shot. He’s so bad he can only appear in three-second snippets. Elsewhere, Youngblood is just what you’d expect from a 1986 sports movie starring Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves: lots of generic pseudo-anthem rock, rude dollops of insoluble cheese compounds and eye-rollingly dumb taunts like “Go screw your St. Bernard, scum-nuts.” Could we really have lived through this decade? (Andy Smetanka)

The Cutting Edge (1992)

The hockey ends early in this teen romance on ice, when Doug’s eye is badly injured and his dreams of an NHL career come to an end. His passion for the ice leads to him to accept the unlikely offer of a Russian figure-skating coach who must find a partner for the notorious prima donna Kate (Moira Kelly—the first and last word in frozen hauteur). Will they make it to the Olympics? Will they overcome class differences to skate together as a pair? The answers are obvious, and the script even more so, but the movie, directed by Paul Michael Glaser, is rock solid with enjoyable performances by its stars and lots of ice time. (Susanna Sonnenberg)

The Mighty Ducks (1992)

The Bad New Bears of hockey movie franchises, parts one, two (’94) and three (’96). Emilio Estevez stars as Gordon Bombay (surely an anagram for something along the lines of “career lifebuoy”), a former PeeWee hockey big-shot turned attorney picked up for drunk-driving and sentenced to 500 hours of community service coaching a rainbow-assortment of annoying child actors. As usual, it all comes down to a penalty shot with three seconds left. Uplifting for some, perhaps. (Andy Smetanka)

Happy Gilmore (1996)

Adam Sandler’s popular follow-up to the side-splitting Billy Madison focuses on a big-on-heart, small-on-talent hockey wannabe who gives up the ice for the green (in both golf and financial parlance) in order to save his grandmother’s house. Many of the film’s most amusing moments are derived from the juxtaposition of the lewd hockey player (Sandler’s character retains his Boston Bruins jersey, a hockey stick putter and a “hockey mouth” throughout) and the dignified world of professional golf. Question: How is it that Sandler can make the phrase “piece of monkey shit” so much funnier than other actors can? (Mike Keefe-Feldman)

Mystery, Alaska (1999)

Mystery, Alaska: the undiscovered wellspring of American hockey talent. A paradise of ice and snow where the nation’s greatest play, not for money or glory, but for the love of the game.

But like all terrestrial Edens, Mystery is a paradise lost. The town’s purity is tainted by a former resident turned sportswriter (Hank Azaria) when he facilitates an exhibition match between the local hockey heroes and the New York Rangers. In the tradition of the Rocky franchise, the Mystery nobodies—despite being smaller, slower and less-experienced—give the Rangers a run for their multi-million-dollar salaries.

Sadly, there’s not much more than that to the movie. Azaria’s character is supposed to be the bad guy—an evil turncoat who, after failing to become a great local player, goes on to become a successful, educated international sportswriter. But this plotline is so undeveloped that Azaria’s character only elicits confusion, not hatred. As hockey movies go, Mystery isn’t bad. But let’s be honest, all the good sports movies are about baseball. (Jed Gottlieb)

Cowards Bend the Knee (2002)

As they say in Quebec: Très, très bizarre. Darcy Fehr plays Guy Maddin, the star player for the Winnipeg Maroons, who takes his pregnant girlfriend to a brothel and backroom abortion clinic posing as a beauty salon but ends up leaving her mid-procedure for Meta, the proprietress’ seductive but completely crazy daughter. Unfortunately, Meta won’t let Guy lay a hand on her until she avenges the murder of her father—using her father’s hands, which she keeps pickled in a blue brine. After fooling him into thinking they’ve been surgically grafted onto his own arms, Meta sends Guy off on a power-of-suggestion murder spree that culminates in a bittersweet reunion with his own father, who has been hiding from his family for years in a forgotten wax gallery in the nosebleed seats of the Winnipeg Arena. Shot in beautiful black-and-white super 8 and relayed in the dazzling shorthand of Eisenstein-inspired micromontage, Guy’s seedy saga is a barely concealed autobiography of director Guy Maddin, whose own hockey-coach father died when he was a teenager. Maddin has compared his own career to that of Devils/Canadiens/Lightning left wing Stephane Richer: not complete but full of promise. If there’s a weirder hockey movie out there, I’ll eat Gump Worsley’s jockstrap. (Andy Smetanka)

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