Guys, look…I’m not going to rail against Gordon Bombay for another 1,000 words, as I did when I put The Mighty Ducks on this list a few days back due largely to his overrated coaching techniques and consistent poor example. We know the whole backstory by now: Our hero upturned poor Adam Banks’ life to settle a personal score. He designed a patently illegal play — The Flying V — in the pursuit of victory. He finished his first (court-ordered) season as Ducks coach by winning a whopping…half the games he coached.
And in D2: The Mighty Ducks, he got a huge promotion.
This film was really about the sad state of youth hockey coaching in this nation.
Since we left Bombay boarding that bus for the minor-league tryout after the Ducks pulled off the upset of the decade by beating the Hawks in the Minnesota state pee wee championship game (after winning a grand total of one game under Bombay’s leadership during the regular season), Gordo has had himself quite a time. He made the team. He found the old magic from his Hawks days 20 years earlier. He got himself to within an imminent callup of the NHL, and some good checked him. Didn’t seem like a particularly dirty hit, but Bombay hurt his knee. Playing career done, it would seem.
He returns to Minneapolis, and it’s clear we have a Bombay somewhat — but not totally — changed by the Ducks experience. Charlie Conway’s mother, who he fell for in the original movie, has remarried because Gordo became so consumed with himself that he didn’t bother to stay in touch. At least he realizes he doesn’t want to be a win-at-all-cost attorney anymore. Hockey is his love. But coaching the Ducks doesn’t pay the bills. He doesn’t want to be a skate-sharpener in “this rinky-dink town” anymore. He wants something bigger than Minneapolis (which is a tremendous city, by the way).
Jan, his skate-sharpening boss and brother of Gordon’s mentor Hans, tells Bombay they might be looking for a national coach for the junior Goodwill Games, which seems like a pipe dream for a guy who has four career wins under his belt. But Hans must be on to something, because 15 seconds later, guess who’s in the store: A rep from Hendricks Hockey apparel who wants Bombay to coach Team USA.
Even Gordon thinks this has to be a joke. But it’s not. Guy tells him his country needs him and the Ducks magic. Can’t blame Bombay at this point. Whatever happens, happens. He gets his duck whistle out and starts rounding up some of the old Ducks. Conway hears the duck call, and he stops doing his homework. Jesse Hall hears it and immediately dumps a pickup game. Averman has a job taking tickets at the movies, and he quits. Connie Moreau and Guy Germaine are sharing a romantic moment at a waterfall, but quack attack is back and they can’t even get their kiss in. Goldberg darts out of a deli. They swing by Banks’ house, of course, because while he’s a cake-eater, he’s also their meal ticket. Fulton Reid beats up a couple of the old Hawks trying to pull a prank on his old teammates skating through a park. The band — with one all time regular-season win — is back together, this time playing for all of us.
Meanwhile, Bombay has his eyes on the dolla signs. He knows he’s, somehow, in line for a big payday by endorsing hockey apparel — which all minor-league hockey stars and pee wee coaches know is completely based in reality. Meanwhile, the apparel rep Tibbles helps him round out the roster with five players developed in pee wee leagues around the nation:
- Luis Mendoza: Standout from the Miami program who skates fast but can’t stop. He’s literally and figuratively Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez on skates.
- Duane Robertson: From Austin, Tex. Can handle the puck and talk like a cowboy.
- Julie “The Cat” Gaffney: State championship goal in Maine a season ago, and the one player who can actually make a difference for the Ducks. But Bombay can’t understand why the indomitable Goldberg — who allowed 30 goals in eight games in the first movie — would need competition. She’ll be the backup
- Ken Wu: Figure skater.
- Dean Portman: Brawler. Because everyone knows that to win the junior Goodwill Games, you better have two enforcers on your pee wee roster.
There’s a lot of pressure on these kids. They’re already on a Wheaties box. Conway is stuck in the past — he wants the Ducks jerseys back, and not those silly Team USA ones Tibbles presented them — and Bombay is trying his best to keep this group focused and loose, to his credit. They’re doing boot camp style drills to get in shape, but also allowing Duane to lasso teammates skating around after practice. Seems fun.
They get to Los Angeles for the Goodwill Games and immediately trash perennial hockey power Trinidad, 9-2.
All seems to be going well until heavily favored Iceland shows up at the postgame press conference and coach Wolf “The Dentist” Stansson says Team USA is going down. Bombay is a little worried about the former NHL tough guy’s presence, but when Tibbles shows Gordo his new digs in Malibu, his mood improves and he determines the team doesn’t need him around so much. His dedication to the kids, once again, ebbs and flows with how well his personal life is going. And now, he’s got a great view of the ocean.
Team USA had a great draw in this tournament and blitzed Italy in the next game,11-0, lowlighted by Goldberg taunting the Italian meatballs. Bombay had some kind of a photo shoot after the game — not sure for what — and headed out to a party afterward. Luc Robataille was there. So was Kareem, to whom he pitched a Nike Air coaching loafer.
He seems more concerned with the shoe than he is with the fact that Gaffney realizes she’s the real deal and wants to get in goal. Evidently, Bombay hasn’t found an opportunity to get her on the ice in two games they won by a combined score of 20-2.
Bombay shows up for the Iceland game dressed like Gordon Gecko, and the two goons Reid and Portman are upset because they saw him out the night before romancing the Iceland trainer over some ice cream cones. Still, Gordon is feeling good and wishes Stansson good luck, because he’s going to need it. But Portman gets ejected three seconds in, USA plays like a bunch of individuals and Bombay knows pretty quickly he needs to dip into the bag of tricks. He sends Wu to the ice to do a triple axel, and he gets buried.
Bombay questions the team’s concentration after the second period, tells them their best isn’t good enough. They don’t respond. The smartest thing he does is pull Goldberg, who pretty much begs off. But The Cat gets ejected for beating up a few kids who point out that she’s a girl.
The only highlight in a 12-1 loss is a goal by Banks, but he taunts Iceland and gets slashed, hurting his arm. Iceland doesn’t even play a dirty game. USA got what it deserved. “We just didn’t have the magic tonight,” Bombay says. Tibbles tells him another game like that, and he’s back to Palookaville (Minneapolis, which again, is lovely.).
Bombay rallies the troops by telling them how pathetic they were. Jesse Hall, Gaffney and Benny The Jet point out that Stansson was far more prepared for the game than Bombay, and they wonder why he seems more focused on the sponsorships than the games. Bombay pulls a Herb Brooks and tells the former pee wee champs to head back on the ice for a long night of postgame Herbies.
“This is no fun,” Conway told him.
“Who said this was supposed to be fun?” Bombay asked.
The team is understandably on edge, and they get into a fight in a park. At this point, Russ Tyler — played by the great Keenan Thompson, pre-SNL — shows up and tells them what embarrassments they are to him as an American. He straight up challenges them to some “street puck.” They proceed to get absolutely battered by some inner-city street hockey players. Those kids play hard, play with pride, play like a team. One kid teaches Mendoza how to stop. Another teaches Wu how to defend himself. They all teach the USA kids how to band together.
In other words: they’re doing Bombay’s job.
Jan shut his shop down for the first time in 10 years to fly to LA to slap some sense into Bombay again. He refocuses Gordon on what’s important — teaching the kids — and Gordon heads to the beach to find his inner Herb Brooks. While he’s thinking about the importance of being a good role model versus making a lot of money, he misses the next game against Germany. Team tutor Michele stands in until Bombay shows up with the duck whistle.
“I was wrong. I’m sorry. I forgot about the team, and the team is all I have,” Bombay pleads.
In a 2-2 game in the third, they call for the Flying V. It is offside again, blatant cheating. But Averman scores to win it.
At this point, Bombay decides to watch some film and foster some unity and get the most out of the kids. He benches Banks after letting him play through the wrist injury for a few days. They get it X-rayed, and Banks ends up with his arm in a sling.
With Banks out, Conway recruits Tyler to take his roster spot, and Bombay puts the kid right from the playground onto the ice against Russia. He wins it with the knuckle puck to seal a berth in the championship against Iceland.
(I don’t feel like writing about the knuckle puck. What’s up with that?!?!?!? But, if you want to know more about it:)
After an on-ice encounter with Stansson after a practice, and despite a miraculous recovery by Banks, USA is rattled heading into the final. They fall behind 4-0, and Iceland seems unfazed by the knuckle puck. Stansson is the first coach who actually doesn’t take any of the Flying V’s crap; they score a goal after blasting a defenseless Hall at the blue line.
Bombay sends Portman and Reid onto the ice to change the tenor, and Wu scores after distracting Iceland with a triple salchow to make it 4-1. Reid and Portman fire up the crowd, taunt Iceland, and get tossed into the penalty box. It was a curious decision Bombay seemed powerless to stop, and USA paid for it when Iceland sent its tough guys onto the ice with all of USA’s in the box. Robertson, who somehow had a lasso on the bench, brought his rope onto the ice to hogtie an Iceland player who was going to check Connie Moreau.
“This isn’t a hockey game,” Bombay said, “it’s a circus.”
Now we live in a world where Bombay is the only one making any sense.
He rallied the troops in the locker room at the second intermission with the old “Ducks fly together” bit, and got them all Ducks sweaters to start the third. Which seems illegal, but we’re assured it’s not. Iceland at this point is dead in the water.
Here’s the hockey clinic the Ducks put on in the third to come back:
- Nifty passing from Wu and Germaine for a legit goal by Moreau. 2-4.
- That’s erased by a complete and utter failure by Goldberg to maintain integrity in the crease. 5-2.
- The lasso kid lofts a puck toward the ceiling, and somehow Banks knocks it home. 3-5.
- Breakaway by Mendoza, who stopped! By God, he stopped! 4-5.
- Tyler dressed in Goldberg’s jersey and goalie pads — which is definitely illegal — hits the knucklepuck. Tied.
Yep. Bombay draws up no plays. And they tie it.
Banks, Germaine and Reid score in the shootout, but Goldberg is no help. At this point, Bombay realizes he better put a real goalie in the game — the first true coaching move he has made in two films — and Gaffney stops Gunnar Stahl, the Goodwill Games’ leading scorer to seal the championship. The Cat celebrates by taunting a heartbroken Stahl.
OK, so I guess I spent somewhere in the vicinity of 1,000 words ripping into Bombay’s coaching. But whatever. It wasn’t what spoiled this movie on me. What spoiled it was that you’d have to be pretty heartless, pretty blinded by nationalism, to root for this particular Team USA. They absolutely ran up the score on Trinidad and Tobago; in the real world I’d have much preferred to see a movie about a hockey team from a country where the temperature only rarely dips below 70 degrees. They did the same to Italy, which had to suffer through Goldberg’s straight-up ethnic taunts. They had the biggest goons in the movie. They played the dirtiest; at no point did Iceland — the bad guys only because they were Iceland — cheat to win. They were just better, until Bombay’s group came up with a few tricks again. Stahl congratulated Conway afterward with grace; Stansson did the same for Godron. Fact is, the roller hockey team from South Central LA would have been a much better representative of the United States than the Ducks.
You can’t watch Rocky and feel compelled to root for Apollo Creed. You can’t watch Miracle and root for Viktor Tikhonov to just leave Tretyak in the game. You can’t watch the Bad News Bears and root for the spoiled rotten Yankees, or turn on Karate Kid to cheer on Cobra Kai (although, I do). Yet. that’s what this movie is asking us to do when we’re not ignoring how incompetent Bombay is as a coach. This isn’t hockey. It’s a circus. His words, and mine. And I wish Team USA finished dead last in those games.
Donnie Collins has been a member of The Times-Tribune sports staff for nearly 20 years and has been the Penn State football beat writer for Times-Shamrock Newspapers since 2004. The Penn State Football Blog covers Nittany Lions, Big Ten and big-time college football news from Beaver Stadium to the practice field, the bowl game to National Letter of Intent Signing Day. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5368; @DonnieCollinsTT