Hockey hasn’t been quite the same since the release of The Mighty Ducks in 1992. Forget that an actual Mighty Ducks team was launched in Anaheim by Disney, in an effort to synergize the film’s fanbase with the NHL’s, or that the film eventually spawned two more sequels. You can even forget the effect that the Flying V or the Triple Deke have had on overambitious young hockey players, all trying to pull the moves off for themselves.
Steve Brill, Mighty Ducks creator and writer (who also cameos as the lawyer Frank Huddy), says one of the things he reflects upon most in the twenty-plus years since the film’s release is its trickle-down effect. “It’s gotten some people into hockey, or it’s gotten their kids into hockey. Now, some of those kids who grew up liking those movies have kids of their own, and they can share it with their kids,” he says.
Brill recently spoke with BarDown about the origin of the Mighty Ducks, how his own childhood experiences were written into the movie, and what could be next.
(This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.)
BarDown: So, we should probably start at the beginning. Where did the idea for the Mighty Ducks film originally come from, and especially the decision to make a movie about hockey?
Steve Brill: I grew up in upstate New York, in Utica, New York in the 60’s, when the old IHL was around — I used to go to hockey games at the auditorium. It was bloody and brutal, but I loved hockey and I started playing up there as a kid, peewee hockey from age 6 to 10 in Clinton, New York right next to where I was. I wasn’t very good but I really loved the sport, and I loved being on a team. Never forgot that experience, even though my coaches were mean to me and I wasn’t very good at it.
We moved to Florida when I was 12 and I stopped playing hockey, so I was skateboarding and stuff like that. Then I moved to L.A. after college, and hadn’t played hockey or thought about hockey much, but when I moved to L.A., I started going to Kings games again with my roommate Peter Berg, who’s the director of Friday Night Lights. He was from the East Coast too and liked hockey originally, and we sort of rediscovered hockey, because we had nothing else to do, we didn’t have jobs. We’d just go to Kings games for five bucks, and then we started skating at a rink near my apartment just to kill time.
So, through skating and watching the Kings and falling back in love with hockey, me being a screenwriter needing to think of ideas, and also someone who loved The Bad News Bears growing up more than anything, I thought, ooh, why not do a movie about hockey? So I wrote the movie over the course of maybe a year, and came up with everything you see in the first movie.
Were there any specific moments that were inspired by your own interactions with hockey?
Brill: Well, the fear of the puck was something that I gave to [Greg] Goldberg in the movie. That was something I had, because if you’ve played hockey, you realize vulcanized rubber, it’s incredibly thick and hard and you can’t really let it hit you, [laughs] which sounds unreasonable, to be hit by a puck, and it is! I was always scared of the puck, so I put that in there.
Each kid had a flaw to them that was either something I experienced or saw. Particularly every time I introduced new characters in the second movie, there’d be like a kid who couldn’t stop, a kid who couldn’t skate backwards. There were particular things like that that I always remember. Also, stuff like skating outdoors on a pond — I used to skate like all kids in upstate New York or Minnesota, we would spend most of our times on these ponds, and a lot of that’s in the movie.
A lot of the drills and the games and the stuff that happens in the sport is in the movie, but one of the main things that I loved about hockey, and still do, is that when a goal is scored, it’s so dramatic, it’s so special. There’s just the right amount of scoring in hockey. I thought it would be really exciting in a movie when someone scored, and I thought that people would like to see it. That’s why I have so much hockey in the movies, because I love the sport and I thought it would translate.
How did that scene with Basil McRae and Mike Modano at the Met Center come about, and how was that experience for you guys?
Brill: Oh, that was great because I was such a hockey nerd, fan, geek. I certainly didn’t write them in the first draft, because I wrote the first draft in like 1987... I only had this scene where they went to this great [NHL size] arena, the Minnesota North Stars’ Metropolitan Center, just to show them and get off the pond. Just like in all of the great sports movies, like The Natural or Hoosiers, you’d see this great arena, and they got to practice on the ice.
That was always in the script, and then, when we were shooting in the middle of the winter, it was hockey season. We were going to shoot there, and then, we found out that the Sharks were going to be around [playing] the North Stars. It was Modano’s first year, and I skipped to him, and I think I just wrote it and pegged that week before they go out on the ice. [In the scene,] the North Stars are leaving, and they get to see their idols and see real hockey players.
Modano is the one I wanted, and then Basil sort of came along, because I think he was comfortable doing it. Someone suggested him to us. He was more of a defenceman or even an enforcer, and a really great character too. A really cool guy and a really fun guy, and he loosened Mike up when they were shooting. Mike was a rookie and a little nervous, but Basil was really a good force to be with. He was like an enforcer, even in that scene! [laughs] We asked them if they were available, and they said yes.
Did you have any favourite players of your own growing up, that kind of lit the way for you?
Brill: Yeah, when I grew up, I wasn’t a Rangers fan, even in New York. Strangely, I was a Boston fan, Bobby Orr, [Phil] Esposito, that era of the Boston Bruins in the 60’s, and I loved the way they played. And then I sort of didn’t follow hockey in the 70’s, [laughs] I missed the whole thing.
I picked it back up in the 80’s, and when we first got to L.A. when I was a young guy, it was that interesting Kings team with Marcel Dionne and Bernie Nicholls. It was kind of a cool, scrappy team, all up until Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky came in ‘88, right when we were here. My friend Pete had just made some money as an actor and he used that money to buy us season tickets, so I’ll never forget being around Gretzky’s first year. I was rabidly back into hockey for that period.
In fact, I went with Pete to that Stanley Cup Game 7 in Toronto, ‘93. We flew from L.A. to go see that, we were like the only Kings fans that flew to that game, it was incredible in Toronto.
It seems unlikely that you guys could’ve anticipated for things to turn out this way as they did with The Mighty Ducks, but do you ever reflect on the cultural impact of the film?
Brill: Yeah! It was very strange, obviously, when they named a hockey team [after the Mighty Ducks], because as we were just talking about, I was a hockey fan. I would look up the scores every day — the Rangers, the Bruins, the Flyers, the Kings — and then to have a team named after your creation, that was really strange. I was a little thrown by it at the beginning, I was like, is this right?
And then I was like, you know what, this is great. I’m just going to enjoy it, this is the world we live in now, there’s going to be a team named the Mighty Ducks because people liked those movies and Disney wants to have some synergy. I’m just going to enjoy it, and I did. I was happy and grateful when they named the team the Mighty Ducks... and then they took the ‘Mighty’ away a couple years ago, that’s fine too, it’s still called the Ducks. I reflect back on it with only the best memories.
I also reflect back on that I like that people have grown up with the movies. They have a good place in their heart. It’s gotten some people into hockey, or it’s gotten their kids into hockey. Now, some of those kids who grew up liking those movies have kids of their own, and they can share it with their kids.
Whether it’s with a fourth installation or a full reboot, which seems to be kind of popular right now, do you have any interest in picking up the franchise again?
Brill: Yeah, I’m talking to Disney about restarting the franchise using some elements from the original, but pretty much putting together a new team and doing it for the [upcoming] Disney streaming platform service. I’m talking to them about doing it, not really planning to do a movie, but a TV series, a 10-part series, is very possible.