Before I start, I want to offer a disclaimer. Such a salacious headline deserves an explanation even if the mere creation of it has already compromised my integrity as a writer, and some would say human being, entirely. I am a Gordon Bombay fan. I am a Mighty Ducks fan. I practiced triple dekes in my driveway until I was 8 (23) years old. If I am babysitting you, you are watching D2. If I am dating you and you do not like the Mighty Ducks, I am no longer dating you.
With that being said, I’ve come to the realization in my more cynical semi-adulthood that the man who orchestrated the Ducks’ rise from the horrors of District 5, the most celebrated fictional leader in sports history, the one they call the “Minnesota Miracle Man,” wasn’t really that great of a coach at all. I have figured all of this out while trying to watch D3: Mighty Ducks online via mobile vpn at three in the morning on a Tuesday.
Now, such an utterance is illegal in most states, and it’s downright felonious for someone who spent the better part of his childhood in Minnesota to speak this travesty. But upon my 863rd viewing of the trilogy, I could hold my tongue no longer. I understand that questioning the miraculousness of Bombay is a bit like criticizing the sexiness of his contemporary, Right Said Fred: Sure there’s hyperbole there, but why trash a good thing?
Because I’m a writer and that’s what I do. When Bombay, the former Hawk whose missed penalty shot lost his team the championship, first shows up at the feet of District 5, the legendary Jesse Hall eviscerates him for being an apparent drug dealer. The gang’s background is as rough as its appearance apparently.
Bombay takes this team equipped with football and bike helmets, an assortment of jerseys, hand-me-down skates from previous decades, and magic marker numbers into the opening game against the mighty Hawks. They get shelled. He insists that they try to dive their way to victory in game 2 against the Jets. They can’t even win when they cheat.
At this point, Bombay meets with his sage mentor Hans, who encourages him to teach the boys how to fly. After one skate around the pond, the alcoholic lawyer turned coach gains a new perspective on life. Bombay will turn District 5 around.
By the end of the movie, the misfits become champions by defeating the same Hawks who trampled them in their first game of the season. The beloved Charlie Conway exorcizes his coach’s demons with a game-winning penalty shot as time expires. The Outfield’s “Winning It All” blasts through the speakers. We’re left to marvel at Gordon Bombay.
As the credits start to roll, it’s important to ask, “Where did it all change for the Ducks?” The answer is in the equipment. Bombay recognizes that his team’s lack of suitable hockey wear leaves his players at a disadvantage. He enlists the pocketbook of his one-time boss Gerald Ducksworth to sponsor the ragtag group. It’s Ducksworth’s name that spawns the new moniker, and his donation that adequately equips the Ducks.
With new skates, sticks, gloves, helmets, et al, the team formerly known as District 5 goes on a roll. People may attribute the turnaround to Bombay’s change of heart, but it’s like Brazilian soccer players who grow up kicking grapefruits. When you get the chance to play with an actual ball, the sport becomes easy. The same is true of the Ducks, who honed their games with whatever tools they could muster. Bombay merely secured the sponsorship. The talent was already there.
The key additions of ex-Hawk Adam Banks and the Danny Almonte-esque Fulton Reed certainly go down as Bombay magic tricks. But those moves reflect the coach’s effective skills as a manager rather than a hockey mind.
In D2, Bombay’s shortcomings as a coach become all the more obvious. When he first gets his gig as the leader of Team USA (which evidently puts him in the company of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), he sends Charlie out to circle the troops. On the surface, this seems like a nice way to gather the Ducks. And then you spend some time on Google Maps and discover that Charlie’s trip from Minneapolis, where he lives, to the Mall of America to pick up Averman, to St. Paul (Connie and Guy), to Edina (Adam Banks), to Stillwater (Fulton), and back to Minneapolis covers roughly 114 miles of rollerblading.
It’s not intelligent anything, let alone coaching, to send 13-year-olds on that kind of journey.
Nevertheless, Bombay and Team USA breeze through the early fixtures of the Junior Goodwill Games with his reputation as a miracle worker still intact, somehow. In the opening game, the former Ducks defeat Trinidad and Tobago 8-3. Bombay calls it “a statement.” What statement is that exactly? If winning by five goals in hockey, while giving up three, to a Caribbean nation constitutes a statement victory then we need to seriously rethink our definition of the word.
Luckily for Bombay’s ego, Team Iceland is there to humble Team USA. The 12-1 victory in the opening round exposes all of Bombay’s follies as a coach. He was ill-prepared. He couldn’t make adjustments. He was slow to replace incumbent goaltender Greg Goldberg, the same player who gave up three goals to T and T, with the much more heralded Julie “The Cat” Gaffney.
Iceland produces indie rock superstars — Bjork, Sigur Ros, and Of Monsters and Men — like nobody’s business, but the country is sorely lacking in hockey players. Not a single Icelander has ever played in the NHL. Sure we can give Wolf “The Dentist” Stansson, Team Iceland’s head coach, some credit for inspiring his Norsemen to new heights. But the gap between American hockey and Icelandic hockey should never be 11 goals.
Bombay should have been fired on the spot. Instead, he takes his team to the gold medal with some shady tactical work, defeating Iceland in the final by virtue of the shootout. Many hail this as the greatest American hockey victory since “The Miracle on Ice.” It’s far from it.
At this point, Bombay decides to ride into the sunset rather than follow his boys through the gauntlet that is Minnesota high school hockey. He may be away from the Ducks, who have settled at the prestigious Eten Hall Academy, but he can’t escape criticism. At least from me.
The team that the Minnesota Miracle Man bequeaths to Junior Varsity Coach Ted Orion is cocky to the point of hubristic. The newly minted “Warriors” take a 9-0 lead on their first opponent before surrendering a ridiculous nine straight goals in a 9-9 tie. Apparently, Charlie and the boys never learned the virtues of playing defensive hockey, something that Bombay probably should have mentioned once or twice before.
Perhaps I’ve been a bit unfair to Gordon. Even if he didn’t coach the Ducks to a standard that I’d accept, he did galvanize the team. There would be no Mighty Ducks, and therefore D’s 2 and 3, without Gordon Bombay. I just think we need to rethink his place in hockey history a bit.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go change my address and given name.
Philadelphia born. Raised in God’s country aka Duluth, Minnesota. Give me a frozen pond and an open pitch and I’ll be happy. Follow me on twitter @noclassfriday