For hockey fans of a certain age, the first Climate Pledge Arena visit Thursday night by the Anaheim Ducks will mean more than getting to see Ryan Getzlaf, Adam Henrique and top draft pick Mason McTavish in person.
And when fans stare behind the visiting team’s bench, it won’t necessarily be coach Dallas Eakins they see; many will undoubtedly conjure up movie images of Minneapolis defense lawyer Gordon Bombay leading a team of pee-wee hockey misfits — including Fulton Reed, Greg Goldberg, Lester Averman and Connie Moreau — to an impromptu championship.
The first film of the iconic Mighty Ducks movie trilogy back in 1992, starring Emilio Estevez as Bombay, wasn’t just a silly sports flick borrowing liberally off the Bad News Bears baseball comedies from the 1970s. It has been credited with turning a generation of new fans on to hockey and the only reason the Kraken’s next opponent exists.
The Walt Disney Company in December 1992 acquired an NHL expansion team and named it Mighty Ducks to use as a marketing tool and trade off the movie’s success. It worked, with the team at one point reportedly accounting for 80% of the league’s $1 billion in merchandising revenues.
And when a 1994 sequel was made, current Kraken professional scout Cammi Granato was on the set of “D2: The Mighty Ducks,” helping out with the hockey scenes. Help was badly needed in the first two movies, because the Mighty Ducks’ child stars had apparently exaggerated their hockey prowess during auditions.
“Oh yeah, they were all actors,” Granato quipped Wednesday with a chuckle. “They needed to learn. They had stand-ins for a lot of them.”
Granato had been training in California and was asked by Jack White, a hockey trainer for the movie, to spend time at a warm-up camp for actors and extras on the set. White’s teenage daughter, Brooke, a future pro hockey player, was an on-screen double for Connie Moreau’s character in the sequel.
The pair later invited Granato to help out with hockey scenes during initial 1993 shooting at the newly opened Arrowhead Arena, where the Ducks would play later that year.
‘It was so cool, because they had just finished the arena and we got to be the first to skate out on the ice even before the Ducks did,” Brooke White-Lancette said.
Granato was still in the midst of her Hall of Fame hockey career at the time.
“I came in with her and her dad for two or three days,” Granato said. “I remember being out on the ice and helping with the hockey scenes, trying to make them seem more real. It was neat to see it up close like that. I still think about it sometimes, being out on a real movie set for the first time.”
Granato said she enjoyed meeting and working with the younger actors.
“It feels like another lifetime ago,” she said.
As does Anaheim’s struggling debut NHL season in 1993-94, when it went just 33-46-5 and failed for years to achieve on the ice what Disney had done in its unprecedented crossover from a movie into sports.
Even the presence of blossoming stars Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne and an unexpected Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2003 couldn’t halt jokes about the team’s gimmicky name. New ownership finally dropped the “Mighty” part in 2006, and the Ducks won their only championship in 2007.
Kraken coach Dave Hakstol on Thursday will reprise in real life the fictional role filled by movie protagonist bench boss Jack Reilly and coach the latest team attempting to thwart the Ducks. It has been a tough start for Hakstol, whose team’s 4-8-1 start is even worse percentage-wise than the original Mighty Ducks expansion squad posted.
“We’re going through some crap right now,” Hakstol said Wednesday. “It’s not fun. Losing hockey games on a two-game road trip isn’t fun. But it’s also not something that anybody’s going to dwell on. They’re going to dwell on the things that make us better, make us stronger.”
It doesn’t help that Anaheim comes in a surprising 7-4-3 and riding a five-game winning streak, its longest in three years. But the Ducks are dealing with their own adversity. General manager Bob Murray resigned Wednesday and will enter an alcohol rehabilitation program after allegations of unprofessional conduct and workplace mistreatment of staffers.
As for the Kraken, a loss in Las Vegas on Tuesday following a shocking defeat in Arizona has them facing the Ducks with increased urgency.
The Kraken outplayed the Golden Knights through most of two periods Tuesday but allowed a tying goal toward the end of the middle frame after taking the lead. Hakstol said his players know they must avoid such end-of-period letdowns — a recurring theme of late — and focus on winning a key divisional game.
“It’s not about moral victories and having parts of the game and feeling good and being good on a consistent basis,” Hakstol said. “It’s about building wins. We’ve come up short on our last two nights in pushing and getting the wins. So we all have to push and be a little bit better and get across the finish line.”
The tale of two NHL expansion franchises three decades apart has other things in common beyond Granato. Though the Ducks borrowed their name off a movie, the Kraken, in turn, adapted theirs off a fictitious sea creature from Scandinavian folklore and one of team owner Jerry Bruckheimer’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” flicks.
There’s also a television series on Disney + called “The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers” that debuted last March featuring Estevez as coach until he pulled out of a second season last week over differences with producers — including his reported refusal to get a COVID-19 vaccination.
That TV project also has a Kraken connection: Dave Tomlinson, an analyst on Kraken broadcasts on KJR-AM (950), worked as a hockey coordinator and choreographer on the series’ first season. British Columbia native Tomlinson, 52, who played 42 NHL games with Toronto, Winnipeg and Florida, had worked on numerous TV and film projects before joining the Mighty Ducks production.
“One of the biggest challenges was I had seven kids and only three of them could skate,”‘ Tomlinson said. “And it turned out my best kid was the one who was supposed to be the worst hockey player in the series. So I had to teach my best kid how to be the worst and help the worst players seem great. But it all worked out.”
But that’s where the good vibes between teams end. Come Thursday, the Kraken hope to take down the Ducks in their own 60-minute TV special, wanting no sequels from their recent body of results.