I’ve spent my entire life living in the South. You have to go back a couple of generations on my mother’s side to find a family member not from the South, so when it came to sports, I knew growing up it was your typical North Carolina basics: NASCAR, college basketball, and pro wrestling. Eventually, I was introduced to baseball and football, but hockey… that didn’t come into my life until The Mighty Ducks came along.
Today, my hometown of Raleigh has a NHL team, but back in the 80’s and 90’s, you were hard-pressed to even find a minor league hockey team in the South. Thanks to the success of the NHL California based teams, the NHL began expanding into Florida and then eventually to North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee as the sport grew more and more popular.
Obviously, the solid economy of the 90’s along with the growth of cable sports allowed for sporting leagues in the 90’s and 2000’s to grow and expand, but I can’t help but think The Mighty Ducks had a lot to do with my generation’s introduction to hockey as well as fandom.
Released in 1992, The Mighty Ducks was one of many sports related movies released in the early-to-mid 90’s marketed to kids. Other examples would include Little Giants, Little Big League, Angels in the Outfield, and The Sandlot. For me, hockey was something I knew of, but I’d never watched a game. I didn’t know anyone who played hockey or even liked hockey, so it was a nice glimpse into this sporting world that was completely foreign to me.
The Mighty Ducks follows the traditional band of misfits learning to work together to become better than they are. There is also a disgraced former player turned coach who finds his purpose though the love of the game.
As much as I enjoyed The Mighty Ducks, D2 was my favorite movie in the series. The Ducks are selected as the US National team and are sent off to compete for the world prize. New members are added, the budget is increased, and the introduction of The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim’s jerseys were added to the film. Disney as so in on the Ducks, they even bought an NHL team they named The Mighty Ducks which gave us kids with no local team someone to root for.
I quickly bought a Mighty Ducks hat, stick, and began following the games.
Street hockey became a thing for us kids living on the Naval base in Orlando and while my skating skills were always horrendous, we spent most of our time playing just on foot. Bruised shins, moving the net for cars, and the occasional hip check to asphalt were part of our daily games, but it was a fun and a great way for us Southern boys to enjoy the sport of hockey in the 100-degree heat.
My peak Ducks fandom occurred in 2003, when Paul Kariya led the team to the Stanley Cup Finals. I really thought they were going to win it that year, but it just wasn’t meant to be. Shortly thereafter came a lock out and then Disney sold the team, which changed up the logo and the Mighty Ducks just became the Anaheim Ducks. It was hard to root for a team that seemed to share none of the core of what made the Ducks so fun to cheer for.
Thankfully, nostalgia has kicked in and the old Ducks jerseys and logos come up now and again, including on this year’s NHL video game from EA.
Disney made three Mighty Ducks films, two of which I saw in theater. The third film had a bit of a tonal shift as it focused on teenagers, and the series best days were behind it. I was happy to see Disney resurrect the franchise for Disney+ in the form of a series. I watched the first couple of episodes and enjoyed it, but I’m clearly outside of the market audience for a show like this and that’s okay. I just hope the new show exposes other kids to the sport of hockey.
My hockey fandom was strong for many years, but the 2005 lock out took a lot out of me. Moving to Raleigh around that time, I was happy to have an NHL team in my own backyard, but not so happy at the cost of parking and tickets, nor the size of the cheap seats at the PNC Arena. I enjoyed my cheap, fun minor league hockey team, the Mississippi Riverkings that I used to attend games on a weekly basis when I lived in Memphis.
As the players of my youth began to retire and the sport evolved, like so many things in my life, hockey exited my life as quickly as it entered. Now, if the Predators, Ducks, or Canes find their way deep into the playoffs, I’ll turn on a game for a few minutes. If one of the outdoor Winter Classic games is on TV, I’ll watch ten or fifteen minutes. But like the Ducks of Anaheim, it’s just not the same.
This week there has been a lot of press hyping up the second season of The Mighty Ducks and I couldn’t help but reflect. The Mighty Ducks were a big part of my youth and one that I don’t talk about all that often. I think about all the merchandise, soundtracks, and games that I watched, and I can’t help but smile. That was a good time. Quack! Quack!