Judge Mike Rubino doesn't know the zip code for the City of Champions.
"We won the cup, this is the best day of my life."—Maxime Talbot
In D3: The Mighty Ducks, the beloved team of scrappy youngsters takes on a tough, older group of pompous veterans. They're led by a new coach, who pushed them into a faster, more skill-oriented style of play. The hard-fought games and personal trials on display in the film all lead up to one climactic game.
It's an epic and inspiring story, for sure. It's also just Hollywood. The story of the 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins blows those Ducks out of the water.
Last year, when I wrote my review for Sidney Crosby: On the Ice and Beyond, I wrote "The DVD itself may end on a downer, but I have a feeling that this won't be the last time we see a Sidney Crosby DVD." Little did I know that Crosby and the Penguins would return to face the Detroit Red Wings in a rematch for the Stanley Cup, and come away the victors in legendary fashion. As is customary for the team that wins the cup, the NHL has released Pittsburgh Penguins: Stanley Cup 2009 Champions, a 71-minute film that relives one of the most exciting playoff runs in recent NHL history.
The NHL didn't need to work very hard to make this year's Stanley Cup DVD interesting; the drama was completely built in. The film starts off where last season ended: the Penguins losing in Game Six of the Stanley Cup Finals to the Detroit Red Wings. The Penguins were a young team then, having arrived in the finals fueled by adrenaline and luck, and that loss would galvanize them. The '09 season began with the Pens off to a commanding start (they went 12-4-3 in their first 19 games), but things soon fell apart. A number of injuries and a prolonged losing streak through the middle of the season found the Penguins out of playoff contention. The team's superstars, Crosby and Evgeni "Geno" Malkin, were having a rough go at it—their hopes of making it to the Stanley Cup this year seemed to be put on hold.
In professional hockey, when things aren't going well you fire the coach. The Penguins gave coach Michel Therrien the boot, and brought in newcomer Dan Bylsma (who ironically played for the Mighty Ducks!). There was an immediate change in the team's attitude and playing style, and the next thing fans knew the Pens were in the playoffs.
After dispensing with their cross-state rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Pens went head-to-head with the Washington Capitals. The DVD puts a lot of focus (rightfully so!) on this second round series, as the league's best three players faced off in unbelievable fashion. Crosby and Malkin went up against Alexander Ovechkin, the top goal scorer of the regular season, and nearly every game was decided by a single point. Sports theater doesn't really get much better than that (except maybe when a guy gets checked in the other team's bench like in NHLPA '93 for Sega Genesis…)
All of this, right up to Sidney Crosby hoisting the Stanley Cup above is head, is edited together in dramatic fashion by the NHL, and punctuated by interviews with the Penguins and journalists. A good number of players sat down to share insights about the entire season, and everyone is pretty entertaining (veteran winger Billy Guerin and defenseman Brooks Orpik providing some of the best material). All of the locker room footage, post-game interviews, and still photography add to the documentary style of the film.
Stanley Cup 2009 Champions has all the makings of a classic sports film, in line with the likes of NFL Films or ESPN specials. Sadly, the one major area where the DVD stumbles is in the narration. While the narrator does a serviceable job, and the writing is good, he comes off too stiff and journalistic. There's a little too much Dateline NBC in his voice, and not enough John Facenda. Still, given the amount of time the NHL had to put all of this together, the narrator can get away with only a two-minute minor.
Making up for the lame narration is an aptly thunderous musical score that balances heavy metal stock jams and Carmina Burana-esque orchestration. It's all mixed together nicely with the interviews, narration, and on-ice microphones in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. The video quality is decent, although the in-game footage doesn't look as clear and crisp as it did in On the Ice and Beyond. Hockey is a sport that truly benefits from high definition broadcasts, so it is a little annoying having to go back and watch a great video like this in standard def—thankfully it's in 16x9 anamorphic widescreen.
The back of the amaray case makes claim that this video is 100 minutes, but you'll only spend that much time here if you watch all of the special features. The supplements on the disc target both Pens fans and general hockey buffs. If you consider yourself of the "general hockey fan" persuasion, you'll want to check out "2009 Playoff Overtime Goals," a brief video that runs through all of the overtime and last-second goals from every game in the post-season. Outside the Pens' journey, this really was one of the better post-seasons for the NHL, and this video shows off some of the crazier goals across the league. The other featurette, "Best of NHL 2008-2009," is sadly just a glorified commercial, and does little to recap the regular season.
For Pens fans, definitely check out "Bill Guerin Practice Wireless," which features the winger skating around during a team practice with a microphone on. Guerin wants to make the most of his mic of course, and tries to give Crosby the nickname "Doofy" and make it stick. Also of note is "Game 7 Celebration," which collects a lot of the interviews with players on the ice just after they held the cup. Much of this footage wasn't shown in Pittsburgh, so it's great to finally see it. The last special feature is an odd one: it's of the Penguins victory parade through downtown Pittsburgh, as seen through a single video camera on a street corner. There's no music, narration, or alternate angles, just a steady stream of players celebrating. The parade was an incredible event in the city (and the second one of the year, after the Steelers won the Super Bowl last February), but you could probably find more interesting clips of it on YouTube. Needless to say, you'll only watch this once.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Stanley Cup 2009 Champions is a DVD that is likely already on the shelves of Pens fans everywhere, right next to their commemorative Iron City beer cans and Crosby bobblehead dolls. I know mine is going to go right next to my copy of Sudden Death. Nevertheless, if you were curious about this release, it's certainly worth the money. The NHL's production values are top-notch; even if they weren't, the story of the 2008-09 Penguins is perhaps too incredible to be missed. The battle between Crosby and Ovechkin is legendary, Marc-Andre Fleury's diving save in the last seconds of Game Seven stopped time itself, and Maxime Talbot shushing the entire city of Philadelphia is perhaps as historically important as the Boston Tea Party.
Sorry, my waning journalistic objectivity just got checked into the other team's bench.
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