During Disney’s Investor Day presentation in December, it was revealed, among many other content announcements, that a series based on the “Mighty Ducks” franchise will be coming to Disney+ (“The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers”).
The beloved hockey movie trilogy from the 1990s, often placed on the Mount Rushmore of hockey films by fans, features an underdog ragtag Minnesota team that overcame the odds and won championships, led by their coach, Gordon Bombay (played by Emilio Estevez). The most iconic part of the trilogy is definitely the Flying V, a hockey play seen throughout the series (both to failure and success), where the entire team starts behind their own goal line, makes a V formation and storms the offensive zone.
The problem is, when people speak about the Flying V today, it’s with rose-colored glasses — the Flying V as a hockey strategy is absolutely terrible.
I mean it — it’s completely unrealistic. Silly, even for 1992 standards. Maybe the joke’s on us because we’re still talking about it, but that’s not the purpose of this article.
A Mighty Ducks reboot means we will probably see a Flying V or two (or 10) again on screen. So instead of complaining about it, I decided to fix it. Let’s be honest, an audience today with social media at their disposal will be far less forgiving of hockey in a movie that looks unrealistic as they might have been back in 1992.
To understand how to fix the Flying V, we must first understand why the Flying V is actually broken in the first place.
Why the Flying V doesn’t work
I called upon Jack Han, who is an expert on hockey tactics and player development. He has served as player development analyst and hockey operations assistant for the Toronto Maple Leafs, as well as assistant coach for the Toronto Marlies in the AHL. He also wrote a book called “Hockey Tactics 2020.” To put it simply: He knows what he’s talking about.
The worst-kept secret in hockey is that the Flying V from the Mighty Ducks trilogy is a mess. Especially at neutral strength, it wouldn’t make it past their own defensive zone.
“If you rewatch the flying Vs from D1-D3, it only works because everyone on the other team backs up instead of playing a normal neutral-zone forecheck,” Han explains. “Real hockey teams will rarely do that unless they’re on the penalty kill.”
Even if the Ducks make it to the offensive blue line [which they always do in the movies], a competent defensive team would be able to stop the one guy who always has to carry the puck across the offensive blue line and launch a pretty uncontested counter attack.
“D3 is what should happen: No spacing between players, pinballed, goal against,” says Han.
How can we make the Flying V work?
Perhaps the simplest way to improve the Flying V (working title: Flying V2.0), at least on screen, is to flip it.
In the trilogy, the Ducks go up the ice in an upside-down V (from the perspective of their goalie), so there is only one eventual destination for the puck. If the formation was flipped, so the team went up the ice in a V (from their goalie’s perspective), there would be two outlets across the offensive blue line, making the play at least a bit more believable.
The other big challenge is that the players are bunched together, almost as tightly as possible. Han explains that both lateral spacing and vertical options — giving room for stretch passes or drop passes — are necessary to make the formation work.
“The Ducks’ V has neither, whereas the NHL examples do,” Han says.
Could the Flying V work in the NHL (or other high-level leagues)?
Believe it or not, the Flying V has been tried — at least in part — deliberately in the NHL.
During the 2016-17 season, the Montreal Canadiens found themselves with a man advantage against the Calgary Flames, and three consecutive times they set up their attack with every player behind the goal line, just like the Ducks:
Habs did do the Flying V last night, not once, but *three* times in a row. Failed the first, got an entry, third one worked! pic.twitter.com/j1Zvu0Y2eY
— Olivier Bouchard (@oli_bou) January 25, 2017
When asked about it after the game, forward Artturi Lehkonen said “Kirkie [associate coach Kirk Muller] planned it out.” Defenseman Nathan Beaulieu added, “We want to keep guys thinking. Defensemen do such a good job on the penalty kill of closing gaps and holding lines now, so trying to bring guys back and bring them with speed is a way to throw a curveball. We want to surprise teams, we don’t want them to be able to know what we’re doing.”
So, the key to making the Flying V realistic on screen during the reboot? Space it out and flip it. Preferably, put it on display during a power play as a playful nod to the original trilogy (although the audience might give it a nostalgic forgiveness if done at even strength too).
The other key question: Will it show up in the NHL? No, unless a team decides to do it for the sake of memes while they’re on the power play … and up 6-0.
But my hope is that, in the new Mighty Ducks reboot, any Flying V we see attempted will incorporate some of what we learned here, and not what we saw in the originals.
Improvement is good. Change is good.