“Mom, you would never do that. Right?”
We were about mid-way into the second episode of the new Disney+ series The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers, and after Alex Morrow’s (Gilmore Girls’ Lauren Graham) umpteenth cringey effort in the name of “fun” for her child’s hockey experience, my son turned to me and made the kind of face you share when you’re embarrassed for someone.
Alex’s pursuit is a noble one. However, youth sports – and in Canada, minor hockey in particular – haven’t been about “fun” in a long, long time.
Depending on how you look at it, the timing couldn’t be better (or worse) for the release of The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers. Minor hockey has been officially cancelled for the season in our neck of the woods, so even watching NHL games is painful for my kid who is really missing his teammates and our usual busy schedule of games and practices, not to mention the regular and rigorous physical activity. But we’re approaching this series as huge fans of the original Disney movies, so we anticipate a redemption arc for Coach Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez) and expect his love of hockey will be reignited and he’ll assist Alex with her goal of creating a fun hockey experience for her son, Evan (Brady Noon).
From here on out, there will be spoilers for the first two episodes of The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers. You’ve been warned!
The series begins with a scenario very familiar to most sports parents. Alex is desperately trying to sneak out of the office to get her kid to hockey practice when she’s presented with extra work that must be done before she leaves. And we learn that there’s another hockey mom in the office who has already left for the day and Alex is stuck with her assignment. Non-hockey parents might be surprised when we eventually learn that their children are actually on the same team. In a perfect world, these moms would take turns shuttling the kids to and from practice, but that’s not always how minor hockey works. You must safeguard your child’s position on a team, so there’s no advantage in helping out a teammate’s family, unless that teammate happens to be a top player. Or the coach’s kid. Or the manager’s kid. Or the money man’s kid. But those families don’t need your help anyway.
The politics are the roughest part of most families’ minor hockey experience. So no one was more surprised than me to find that I related more with the “bad guy” Mighty Ducks’ parents. These days, the Ducks are a top team with a slick coach and an aggressive schedule of practices and workouts.
We see that Evan is late for the “first” practice of the season. What even is that? Hockey is a year-round sport for kids playing at competitive levels. We learn that Evan didn’t participate in the “optional” summer sessions because they were full when Alex tried to register. Honestly, that should have been her first hint. Teams make room for kids they want.
We hear that Alex brought cheese balls when it was her turn to bring the post-practice snack. That’s probably why the summer sessions were “full.” Yes, kids can and should indulge in junk food from time to time and yes, sometimes you’re stuck grabbing whatever’s available at the gas station as a snack. But if the culture of your kid’s hockey team is one that takes nutrition seriously, you know that actual cheese sticks are usually sold in gas stations, as are whole grain crackers or even protein bars—all much better post-practice options.
The reality is that Evan would not have been on a team as competitive as the Ducks at all if this was Alex’s attitude. But sadly, even house league-level hockey isn’t all that “fun.” Leagues wouldn’t exist without parent volunteer coaches but, those volunteers often stack teams and give extra playing time to their better players the same way high-level coaches do. So Alex’s plan to start a team where fun, not winning, is the ultimate goal is truly noble but utterly and completely unrealistic.
But my son and I laughed out loud when the “Toronto kid” revealed himself to be a beginner-level player. Hockey folks know if he was as good as his $900 skates led Evan to believe he was, he’d be wearing swag from his own team, not the Toronto Maple Leafs. And if moving to a new city, his family would have found him a new team likely before they found a new place to live – and spent more time researching it, too.
Back in 1992, it was somewhat believable that a misfit gang of players would hit the ice wearing football helmets and soccer shin pads. These days that trope just doesn’t fly; there is zero chance a player wearing a horseback riding helmet or a goalie with baseball equipment and an oven mitt as a catcher would so much as step on the ice. And it’s practically impossible to locate last-minute ice, let alone on a regular basis (although they’re not too far off showing the bounty to be found in arena lost and found bins). Lastly, while there is often little parity amongst teams within competitive leagues, there is also zero chance that teams with kids who literally can’t skate would compete against teams like the Ducks.
I asked my son what the series is getting right. He said it’s showing how parents control your hockey life. On the one side, parents push their kids into levels they may not have the skills or the drive to play. And, on the other side, a kid might have the fire and the ability to compete at higher levels but not if their parents can’t or won’t get them there. And the subject of money is one for another day.
Season 1 of The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers has 10 episodes, released on Fridays on Disney+. We’re excited to see what happens next, especially now that Coach Bombay has laced up his skates. And if Alex was indeed a proficient figure skater, it’s time for her to start conducting edge training sessions. Don’t waste that ice time, Alex!