To see Angela James play hockey was to see something amazing. Her powerful stride left all her competitors in her dust. Her bone-rattling body checks, when that was still part of the women’s game, awaited anyone who tried to catch up with her. She was, as many say, women’s hockey’s first superstar.
James was born in Toronto to an American father who moved to Canada from racially segregated Mississippi and a white Canadian mother. James got her start in hockey in the boys’ house league.
James grew up in a tough neighborhood in North Toronto and skated her way through race and gender barriers as a young black woman playing what was long thought of as the white man’s game. She made it all the way to the international stage and never came to a podium she couldn’t top, winning four world championship gold medals, as well as registering 22 goals and 34 points in 20 games over those four tournaments. She created the way for so many young Canadian women to go on to play hockey on the Olympic stage. The irony is James herself never did.
Even though she’s has since retired from her playing days, James’s legend continues to grow with each young woman who laces up the skates. In 2010, she was the first woman inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame, an honor she shared with Team USA star Cammi Granato.
James earned the nickname “The Wayne Gretzky of Women’s Hockey” after a college season at Seneca where she accomplished 50 goals and 73 points in 14 games.
Angela James is the second black player to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, along with NHL goaltender Grant Fuhr. James was one of the first two women and the first openly gay player to get into the Hall in 2010, seven years after Fuhr’s induction.
Another film that could appear to rank too low on this list. But Goon, similar to Slap Shot, isn’t standing the test of time very well.
An amusing story about a dim-minded Doug Glatt (Sean William Scott) who can’t skate but can protect and fight the skilled players by intimidation, this independent Canadian film wants to sell the idea of the self-aware goon who vehemently avenges his teammates since the game is certainly violent. It succeeds as entertaining and fun, as Doug is perhaps the nicest hockey player ever on film. However, its celebration of fighting and lack of attention toward the outcome of fighting just don’t add up.
It’s hard to fill out a roster of great hockey films, and Miracle just makes the cut. There are way better films, like Inside Out, that is hockey themed. There are way better films that few have seen, like Swift Current, which documents Sheldon Kennedy’s experience of sexual abuse in junior hockey. And even though Miracle has its charms, it exemplifies what’s stale about hockey films.
Miracle is guilty of the most hockey film clichés on this list. A group of underdog players beats the invincible team in improbable fashion. The players are bag-skated until they learn an important lesson. The coach dismisses the odds and relies on trust and instincts. The name on the front of the sweater is more vital than the one on the back. A dressing-room speech encourages victory.
The Sweater: This National Film Board short is a time capsule of 50s French Canada, and in that context, it’s a staple in the hockey world.
Inside Out: The Pixar-animated film touches a little on the main character’s relationship with hockey, but it becomes a crucial element to a beautiful story. If you want a good cry, cry heavily on this film.
Despite The Mighty Ducks being the usual Disney fare, it was the hockey film for a generation of young hockey fans who’d never watched The Bad News Bears. A championship game that didn’t conclude with a fight but instead a skilled play. A coach who tells his player, “I believe in you, Charlie. Win or Lose.”
The Mighty Ducks rebukes the win-at-all-costs notion of many hockey films while a team of lower-middle-class kids beats the rich kids. It’s one of the few to have non-male and non-white players on the featured team, and gives on- and off-ice screen time to each character.
Another film taking aim at Canada’s national politics combined with hockey, The Rocket rises above the average hockey biopic by portraying Canadiens legend Maurice Richard as the top of the Quebecois cultural spear during a time of separation between English Canada and French.
The Rocket’s sensitive approach to the story is viewed too in the filming of the hockey scenes. The low-lighting of 50s hockey arenas, the helmet-less players, and the cool color hues give us a notion that Richard is by himself in the cold of the rink.
THE GAME OF HER LIFE (1998)
Documenting the lead-up to the first women’s Olympic ice hockey tournament in ‘98, The Game of Her Life offers a unique and rare look at one of the most important chapters in women’s hockey history from a Canadian perspective.
Made by the National Film Board and directed by Lyn Wright, the film tells of Team Canada’s ascent to its first Olympic Games and its heartbreaking loss to Team USA. These were the first Olympic matches between two of hockey’s greatest rivals, and the very true tension between the teams is set up and explored excellently in the film.