It was the original Winter Classic. Two teams facing off and getting back to their roots, playing shinny outdoors on a frozen pond under a grey, wintry sky. Only in this story, one team is the New York Rangers and the other is a group of amateurs from a small town. Mystery, Alaska, the classic underdog story of pros versus joes, turns 20 this fall.
Why does the movie Mystery, Alaska resonate with fans two decades later? Perhaps because it is one of the few movies that gets its hockey right. With all due respect to The Mighty Ducks and Youngblood, there are no silly knuckle-pucks or ludicrous stick-swinging duels in this film. Many people with deep hockey roots were involved in the making of Mystery, Alaska – and it shows. Producers Howard and Karen Elise Baldwin were the owners of the Pittsburgh Penguins at the time and had previously owned the Hartford Whalers. Scriptwriter David E. Kelley was the son of an NHL executive and the captain of his hockey team at Princeton. Brad Turner, the film’s assistant hockey co-ordinator and hockey double for Russell Crowe, played briefly for the New York Islanders and had an eight-year career in the minors. Several former players from the University of Calgary also contributed as Rangers players or as hockey doubles for the Mystery characters.
The Baldwins’ first film to involve hockey was the Jean-Claude Van Damme action flick Sudden Death. It came out in 1995 and had a hearty serving of hockey action. But in Mystery, Alaska, hockey was the main course. Oddly enough, the idea for the film came during a meal.
Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk.