Lost Gem: Youngblood!

A quick preface to this post: when you are writing a book about Hockey, you have to do a lot of research.  Since July I have read at least one book a week on the subject, literally everything I can get my hands on.  I have scoured Youtube and the NHL Channel for videos.  Yet, occasionally you still stumble across a hidden gem that blows your mind and changes everything you once believed.  My order of Greatest Hockey Movies was shaken up, now and forever.  Please enjoy this exclusive exerpt from my forthcoming book, Hockey: A History of All Things Puck. 

Best hockey movie ever?  Too easy: Slap Shot.  2nd Best?  Mighty Ducks.  3rd? D2 the Mighty Ducks[1] are back! 

However, the fourth place spot is a highly coveted battle for supremacy between D3, Miracle and, the top hockey movie of the 80’s, 1986’s Youngblood.  Why does the Rob Lowe / Patrick Swayze movie get the nod over the other two – for ten reasons[2]:

1)      The Quintessential 80’s “Capitalize on What is Popular” Plot – The year this movie was released (1986) was right in the middle of the Oiler’s Dynasty.  Wayne Gretzky was at the peak of his popularity and was undisputedly the greatest athlete on the planet (Jordan had yet to peak; Bird Magic were rivals; Football is more of a team game) and a serious attempt to cash in was made.  1986 was of course the year that Gretzky graced the cover of Time Magazine, not to mention every other possible magazine, so it was only natural to attempt to translate his success onto the silver screen by making a movie about junior hockey.  A quick synopsis: Rob Lowe plays “Dean Youngblood” a talented (American) farm boy who joins a Canadian Junior Hockey team (the Mustangs) where he is challenged by his teammates to show grit and toughness.  Youngblood is a Gretzky-esque finesse player who wants a chance to go pro on his scoring talent alone.  He is taken under the wing of the team’s talented captain – Patrick Swayze – and a complete Gordie Howe-esque hockey player who can seemingly score at will but can also mix it up.  He falls in love with the daughter of his rugged, foul-mouthed coach and joins in on his team’s rivalry with their “Bruins”-esque opponent who are led by a dirty, bruising, Orr-esque defensemen.  What follows is the most incredible collection of on ice 80’s talent in history: heroics ensue. 

2)      Rob Lowe takes off his helmet every single chance he gets – Even when his character has scored a game winning goal, the first thing to go to the ice is his helmet.  When his teammate / best friend / mentor Patrick Swayze is injured by the dirty defensemen, Lowe throws his helmet away as he rushes to help his fallen comrade.  When wearing his helmet, he resembles[3] Gretzky with his skinny face and too large helmet combo, but being Rob Lowe, he never wears something that covers his hair for any length of time.  When he is sitting on the bench in the championship game he is not wearing his helmet.  Show me one other player on the bench not wearing his helmet.  There is not one, even better idea?  Show me a player who desperately wants to get into the Championship game who would sit on the bench not wearing his helmet – Jaromir Jagr does not count.  The movie even makes an unintentional joke out of the improbable no-helmet scenario by having heroic Youngblood forget his helmet when he finally escapes his temporary benching. 

3)      So many montages!  – There are montages of Youngblood training with his brother and Pa, and montages of the team being beaten in the game.  There is a questionable shirtless Rob Lowe working out montage as he attempts to stransform himself into a world class fighter within a week.  During the game there is a series of ridiculously easy saves montages in which the crowd loses their heads and cheer wildly for a simple glove save.  Additional bonus: the “it’s not worth it” Patrick Swayze scene after he finally realizes the futility of fighting[4] and attempting to win a game through taking out his rival – of course his character does not know that Rob Lowe has spent the past week learning to become a fighting machine[5] in order to avenge Racki’s dirty tricks. 

4)      The Canadian Factor – Usually, eighties American movies would try to shoehorn the junior hockey scenario into, well, America but Youngblood thankfully keeps true to Canadian Hockey traditions.  This may, in fact, be the best thing going for the Rob Lowe vehicle.  The Championship is even the real life Memorial Cup!  The movie also expertly captures small town hockey love and fandom[6].  The rink seems authentic – complete with Lobelaws and Tim Hortons advertisements – as does the feel of the game on the ice.  One thing not shied away from: horrible language; this movie is not for the faint of heart.  While I liked Miracle, the main issue I had with it was that it seemed too American – it lacked real heart.  So aside from the clearly not junior hockey player opponents like the 40 year old, fully bearded “Racki”, Youngblood nails it!

5)      The eighties hockey factor – Dean Youngblood scores a hat trick in the Championship game despite not playing at all in the first period or for 90% of the second period.  He scores on his first shot of the game before being knocked out on a deliberate cheap shot.  He returns in the third frame to tie the game on a double wraparound in which he goes around the net unchallenged twice.  I know it was easy to score in the 80’s but not this easy!  I am pretty confident that Gretzky never pulled off a double wraparound…or maybe not so confident since he did score from behind the net twice in one game.  Anyways, the most ridiculous moment aside from the fact that everyone who wins a faceoff, keeps the puck themself[7]?  Youngblood get a penalty shot with three seconds left on the clock, and scores to win the Memorial Cup on the following combo of dekes: double skate around the puck, kick start the puck through the legs, fake a shot from the blue line to get the goalie sprawling, hit the pucks from stick to outside of skate to stick and roof it as the net flies by, the puck hits the bar and drops an inch over the line.  Game over – it was the most exciting shootout moment in a hockey movie since (or before…) the thrilling Mighty Ducks finish.  I was genuinely entertained.  The 2nd most ridiculous thing?  Youngblood is billed as a left winger and yet takes every single faceoff in the Championship game.  His rough and tumble coach even sends him in as a left winger but he still takes every single faceoff.  What is happening here – does this team (from “Thunder Bay”[8]) not have a legitimate second center?  Another continuity problem arises from this since Lowe plays the entire game as if he is the center…even though he clearly went into the tilt as a left winger. 

6)      Youngblood gets carried off…for fighting the most improbable fight ever – Despite being a Wayne Gretzky-esque skill player, Youngblood has to prove himself by fighting the man who knocked out most of his team, Racki.  He does this even though he has just scored on a ridiculous shootout goal and has essentially proved himself to everyone in the arena.  He fights against the advice of his mentor, Swayze.  The fisticuffs are somewhat unrealistic…and not really necessary.  Rob Lowe could have risen above the dark side of the game, as he had clearly shown he would do whatever it took to win.  Yet, despite the reservations of everyone save his bloodthirsty family, he had to fight and the throwdown features Racki beaten while a crowd of players (and referees!) look on.  Then Racki gets up without any referee interference and continues to fight.  Rob Lowe promptly knocks him out for a second time and is then, carried triumphantly off the ice.  In a sudden and shocking turn to realism, Lowe is unable to kiss his love interest due to the beating he took in the game. 

7)      The Family side – Youngblood’s family all wanted to play hockey; during Lowe’s training montage his brother forces him to learn to fight even though Dean seems to have given up his chance at stardom by walking away from his team “all the way to the farm”.  His “Pa” turns out to be a former player who challenges his own son to a fight in order to push him over the final hurdle – what this mysterious hurdle actually is or what he teaches his son remains a complete mystery; though his father does cheer loudly and demand more blood during the knockout.  Shades of Walter Gretzky perhaps?

8)      The Unstoppable Swayze / Lowe Line – After winning a faceoff and taking it himself (again, a major problem for the movie), Swayze feeds it to Lowe, who cuts through two defenders and then drops it off for Swayze who buries the puck.  The two score at will while on the ice and almost certainly would have led the team to the Memorial Cup.    Unfortunately for the entire team, Captain Swayze gives up a surefire victory (and scoring duo) to nail Racki with a clean open ice hit that results in his nemesis taking brutal and calculated revenge.  An ongoing question raised by the movie: When is part two coming out?  Racki would never stand for being beaten by Lowe in the flight: Youngblood 2: Racki’s Revenge will be a surefire hit.  Additionally: did Swayze make a comeback despite the plate installed in his head after Racki’s hit? 

9)      The Subtle Americanness – Youngblood’s team, the Mustangs (Red Wings) takes on Racki’s “Unnamed Team” (Bruins)[9] in a titanic clash.  Is it a coincidence that this Canadian set story features the two biggest market American team color schemes?  If I have learned anything from this movie it is this: there are no coincidences in Rob Lowe movies.  By playing up the Bruins / Wings connection, the movie attempted to help the NHL brand and American Hockey…while being set in Canada.  Devious

10)  Two stars at their absolute peaks – Swayze and Lowe were a couple of years from falling completely off the Hollywood Mountain, but at this time the whole world was in front of them.  Lowe is believable as his character and his frequent lack of helmet allows him to perfectly emote the vacant-eyed stare of a drugged out Hollywood…um, I mean a robot-like junior hockey player.  Top that, Miracle!


[1] How can you not love a movie about international hockey that posits the American team as number one – and features no real other hockey playing nations.  Iceland fills in for Russia and the USA fills in for Canada.  Yet neither is more preposterous than the inclusion of a Jamaican Hockey team, which is as ridiculous as a Jamaican Bobsled…Team…oh. 

[2] No idea this movie existed until I caught it on Yanksgiving 2011…on TSN (essentially the Canadian ESPN).  Until it was shown I am pretty sure everyone in the world had forgotten completely about it.  To Rob Lowe: You’re welcome. 

[3] Not looks wise.

[4] Also happened in the other Swayze / Lowe classic The Outsiders.

[5] If only real hockey players could discover these abilities in a single week.  I would like to sign up both Sedin brothers immediately. 

[6] Or, someone actually did their job in the 80’s!  Ridiculous!

[7] Impossible in any era and a severe problem that cannot be overlooked during viewing. 

[8] Could they pick a more cool sounding place in Canada?  Could they pick a worse place in Canada?  Let’s review Thunder Bay’s record: routinely voted 2nd worst place in Canada (behind Winnipeg) and was where Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope ended…yes, Thunder Bay killed hope. 

[9] I just wrote more than a thousand words on one of the worst movies I have ever seen, please skip the rest of this section right now.  See you on the next page!