Hamilton-set cult classic hockey movie is being rebooted; director played junior in Halton

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Published September 9, 2022 at 11:25 am

Hamilton Bulldogs goal by number 10, Dean Youngblood — assist by Charles Officer.

Charles Officer, whose pursuit of his puck dreams once brought him through Halton Region, is helming a Black-led reboot of the 1980s junior hockey movie that was set in Hamilton. The Jamaican-Canadian storyteller, per reports on Thursday, is hopping over the boards to direct a reimagining of “Youngblood” that is in the works from of Aircraft Pictures and Dolphin Entertainment.

Plot summaries reported in the media Thursday say the Officer-shaped reboot will centre on an African-American NHL prospect from Detroit who joins the Hamilton Bulldogs. The Bulldogs, of course, are an actual Ontario Hockey League team. The reboot/reimagining will begin filming in 2023.

In the 1986 original, Rob Lowe, the late Patrick Swayze (and their skating doubles) played the stars of a junior team called the Hamilton Mustangs. Lowe’s Youngblood was a 17-year-old farmboy from upstate New York, conferring his outsider status. An oral history retrospective published by The Hockey News in 2016 says that Lowe was a poor skater, while Swayze was decent but needed a double for the dirty dangles in his pre-“Dirty Dancing” days. A young Keanu Reeves was a credible goalie.

“The opportunity to re-imagine the beloved classic hockey drama Youngblood is a gift, and I am excited to bring a fresh story that centers on an African American hockey prodigy to the screen,” Officer stated to entertainment-industry sites such as Collider, Deadline and Variety.

Officer is a multiple-times Canadian Screen Awards nominee for his directing and writing. He is also one of the executive producers of CBC and BET+’s eight-part series “The Porter,” which is the biggest Black-led production in Canadian entertainment industry history.

Officer played for the Georgetown Raiders junior team in the early 1990s and had a pro hockey stint in the United Kingdom. He has put sport on the screen as a contributor to the Netflix soccer drama “21 Thunder” and also made a 2010 National Film Board documentary, “Mighty Jerome,” which was about world record-setting 1960s Canadian sprinter Harry Jerome.

Media coverage suggests a theme where the 2020s “Youngblood” includes the title character taking on toxic masculinity both within himself and across hockey. Hockey Canada and the Canadian Hockey League are both facing a sexual abuse scandal related to the former’s handling of gang sexual assaults by players on the 2003 and ’18 national under-20 teams.

Former NHL tough guy Daniel Carcillo has also started a class-action lawsuit, saying he was abused while playing in the OHL in the early 2000s. The suit has been filed on behalf of players who may have been abused while playing in the OHL, Québec and Western leagues from ages 15 to 17, when they were still legally children.

Original was filmed in Toronto

Media coverage did not mention whether “Youngblood” 2.0 will be filmed in Hamilton. FirstOntario Centre, the Bulldogs’ home arena, is scheduled to temporarily close in mid-2023 for an extensive refurbishment. Any sports movie or TV show requires large numbers of actors and background performers with an athletic background.

Like Officer, the director and writer of the first film, Peter Markle, was a former hockey player. While Hamilton was the setting, filming took place in Toronto. Exterior shots of “Hamilton Arena” were actually of the Scarborough Gardens, and most on-ice action was filmed at Ted Reeve Community Arena. (Both arenas are still in use.)

It is generally nowhere near as high in the sports movie canon as 1977’s “Slap Shot,” nor nearly as quotable. While both movie hockey teams had a quirky Québécois goaltender, Reeves’ character, Heaver, never says anything quite as memorable as the Charlestown Chiefs’ Denis Lemieux (“Well, um, icing happen when the puck come down, bang you know, before the other guys you know. Nobody there, you know. My arm go comme ça then the game stop then start up.”)

That said, “Youngblood” has earned a regular shift. Sportswriters Ray Didinger and Glen Macnow included it as a top-100 sports film in their 2009 book, “The Ultimate Book Of Sports Movies.” A recent episode of Blue Wire Podcasts’ “Big Screen Sports” recently had a deep-dive episode on what it called “the most ’80s sports movie.” There is also a Twitter account set in the universe of the 1986 Hamilton Mustangs that celebrates their Memorial Cup title.

Like many 1980s movies, it is over-the-top and melodramatic. The plot has Dean quit the team after the Swayze character, captain Derek Sutton, is maimed by Thunder Bay goon Carl Racki.

Dean, to borrow a “Letterkenny”-ism, figures it out. After some soul-searching and requisite “Rocky”-style training montage, he rejoins the Mustangs for the decisive game of the Memorial Cup. He proceeds to score a natural hat trick for Hamilton, which includes the game-tying goal on a wraparound with 10 seconds left in the third period, with somehow enough time left for him to get tripped by Racki on a breakaway with three seconds left and then score on the ensuing penalty shot. He then punches out Racki — twice — and makes up with his girlfriend, who (of course) is the daughter of the team’s hard-edged head coach.

Markle’s film got just enough of the Canadian junior hockey culture right, including the warts of hazing and teenage boys being expected to fight while thousands of adults and younger children cheer. (In the OHL today, players can be suspended if they have three fighting majors in a season.) It was also unapologetically set in Canada at a time when that was relatively rare, so there are period details of a bygone Toronto.

The real-life Hamilton Bulldogs, of course, nearly won the Memorial Cup last season. Time will tell how that plays out on-screen in Officer’s reimagining.

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