It seems like just yesterday the world discovered the flying V, a ridiculous hockey formation that can easily be disrupted (as the varsity team showed in D3), but not ridiculous enough that an actual NHL team tried a version of it three times in one shift and eventually got a goal out of it. The mad mind of Coach Bombay lives on, and Flixist got a sneak peek at the first three episodes of Mighty Ducks: Game Changers.
But time passes, and things change. In true “die a hero or lie long enough to become the villain” fashion, the Mighty Ducks of yore are no longer the scrappy startup that took the junior hockey world by storm. Instead, Mighty Ducks: Game Changers, puts the dynastical Ducks team into the rigid and militaristic fashion fans of the original saw in the Hawks. Being a part of the Ducks is no longer a laughable offense, but instead, proof that they only take the best of the best.
It’s here that after a failed tryout, hockey nut Evan (Brady Noon)--with the encouragement of his mom, Alex (Lauren Graham)--finds his own ragtag crew of misfits to take the ice. There’s the neighbor kid who describes himself as a “hockey fan with a podcaster’s body”. There’s the new kid who just moved in across the street who rocks a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, expensive skates, and a Canadian accent that comes and goes (but even with the gear to show it, his abilities are…well, just think of Stanley playing basketball in The Office). Throw in a reluctant goalie, a daredevil, a popular girl seeking her own identity, and an outcast who boasts ownership of nunchakus, it’s a recipe for the underdog.
The first few episodes not only play to the underdog but also highlight the dangerous pressures in youth sports. Year-round clinics, sports physicians, and an extremely competitive nature overflow onto the ice. When he’s cut from the team, the coach offers no sympathy. After Evan reminds him about his “can’t measure heart” mantra, the coach coldly responds “that’s something I got off the Internet that I’m trying to phase out”. When Alex questions the insanity of it all, he scoffs, “these parents pay me to win, we’re not here to have…fun”. It’s an unfortunate part of youth sports, especially when overbearing parents are there to push the extreme instead of reigning in the absurdity.
But let’s not dwell on that, because Coach Bombay is back! Check that, Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez) is back. A lifetime seemingly has passed since he drove a limo on a frozen pond, and he’s worse for wear and refuses to be called “coach”. Running an ice rink left by his old mentor, Gordon has a hate/hate relationship with hockey which is revealed in Game Changers’ early episodes. When Evan makes a heartfelt plea to coach his team, he recalls the underdog story of Bombay’s Ducks. “When you coached the old Ducks they were really bad, but they got better. Tell me we have a chance. Tell me the underdogs are gonna come through in the end”. Evan sells it here, tugging at the emotional connection he knows Bombay still has, only to be met with “yeah, the old Ducks did get better. But they had me, you don’t.” A response as cold as the ice itself.
But it’s easy to spot what comes. Bombay fights it every step of the way, but he can’t help himself. Estevez has a charming, curmudgeonly way about him that equates to a strong and fun rapport with Lauren Graham’s Alex. He fights their insistence in his involvement, going so far as to drive a Zamboni on the ice while the team is practicing. As he watches the team struggle, thoughts of his past come flooding back. Maybe there’s still a little magic left in the Minnesota Miracle Man.
And that’s where the show hits the sweet spot. Much like Cobra Kai, the nostalgia hits for the original’s fans, while bringing in an entirely new audience who weren’t around for peak Ducks popularity. It’s got humor and callbacks. Outside the Ducks’ lavish facility is a giant “Hendrix” sign, the corporate sponsor that nearly tore the team apart in D2. The kids broadcasting poke fun about how the Ducks used to quack, and a poorly formed Flying V makes an appearance. While Bombay is brought in right away, the curiosity around what other former Ducks may pop in as the season goes on is ever-present.
Mighty Ducks: Game Changers is surprisingly good fun in a family-friendly way. Kids’ sports are supposed to be fun, and the pressure some of the kids are facing at twelve-years-old would seem absurd if it wasn’t a reality. In a world where college programs are recruiting kids at an alarmingly early age (Google “Emoni Bates” if you want an example), Game Changers shows the intensity of it and the alternative of playing a sport simply for the joy and camaraderie. A fairytale of an underdog is what made people fall in love with the Ducks in the first place until winning got in the way. Now there’s a new team ready to take that mantle.
Mighty Ducks: Game Changers premieres on Disney+ on March 26th.