With the National Hockey League playoffs being among the sporting public now, we are privy to some excellent playoff performances and the rehashing of sore points within a team's history, be it your rooting interest or someone else's. As of this writing, currently the New York Rangers are hours away from skating in Game 7 of their playoff series against the Ottawa Senators and if they lose the series, they will certainly endure some grief for being the best team in the East and being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. But they still continue to hold their win in the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals near and dear to their hearts because it was their first championship in half a century, and the focus of Road to Victory, a 1 hour, 40 minute look at the championship team.
For those unfamiliar with the club, the biggest move of the era was acquiring Mark Messier from the Edmonton Oilers. Captain and former teammate of Wayne Gretzky, the presupposition was that Messier (or Mess as his mates called him) did not have much left in the tank. Despite his only being 30 years old, he had been in the league for a dozen years and played over 1,000 regular season and playoff games to that point. And when Mess came to New York, it was in 1991, three years before the storied Cup run. The film does a solid job of recreating the excitement of Mess' arrival to New York and shows the hurdles that needed to be overcome for the team to succeed.
The film interviews many of the former players (save Messier, whose interview footage appears to be archived) and executives involved with the '94 team, along with members of the press and radio/television teams, and fans/longtime season ticket holders recall their experiences with and about the team including and excluding the Cup run. What is surprising about the film as it goes along is their coverage of some of the friction that occurred in the season. Leetch was benched early in the season during a loss to the then-expansion Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, and both Leetch and coach Mike Keenan expressed their respective opinions on not only the benching, but the friction that transpired over the season. Keenan was a noted disciplinarian who clashed frequently with star players at every team he coached for, and to see the candor recalled it pleasure to experience and personally not recalling any sense of Keenan-Leetch animosity, a surprise to say the least.
For as honest and frank as the film tends to be in moments like that, there are others where things tend to flirt (or flat out be caught mid-coitus) with over-dramatization. Messier's guarantee of victory against the New Jersey Devils in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final is bold and ballsy, and his subsequent third period hat trick that helped surge the Rangers to a 4-2 win is superb. The fan recollection about how he's going to burn all his Ranger gear because he saw Mess' guarantee and their losing in the game was going to turn him off from being a Ranger fan for life? Not so much. Too contrived and predictable. Come on NHL Studios, you could have done better than that.
However, I speak on that last part as a fan of a different team that is totally jealous of what the Rangers were able to accomplish in 1994. And if my team ever gets the opportunity to win the Cup (and this year, so far so good), I will happily buy any piece of 'Cup Winner' clothing and memorabilia, and hope that the retrospective DVD is edited to a Lawrence of Arabia length. For now, Road to Victory covers the good and bad times of the 1994 New York Rangers as dutifully and objectively as it can, and with the moments of genuine curiosity, makes for a decent film regardless if you like your hockey jerseys blue or red.
The feature is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen (and reformats the game action to that ratio as well), with the overall result looking good. The new interviews appear to be shot in high definition, and the facial detail on the participants is nice at times, with scars and pores somewhat discernible during viewing. There are moments of image noise on the interviews as well which is a minus, and as far as the game footage goes, it appears as clean as possible for its age. Ranger fans will enjoy looking at not only the old film, but the new stuff as well.
Two-channel Dolby stereo for the production. I cannot say I was surprised by this, you have interview segments along with game footage from the area that is also in stereo. And all of the sounds are replicated well with no hissing or chirping from any of the speakers, and the action is in front of the soundstage and is clear as a bell. I cannot really ask more of source material that was bland to begin with, and the disc conveys it decently.
The only extra to speak of is some additional footage (16:59) including a couple of good stories by and about Ed Olczyk and Stephane Matteau, respectively.
Road to Victory is not my particular brand of vodka, but for fans of the New York Rangers, they will enjoy the stroll back through memory lane with participation by virtually all relevant parties involved. Technically the disc is decent and there is a little left wonting in the bonus department, but even if the Rangers tank tonight, this disc is a worthy testament to their previous (and most recent) success. Definitely worth it for the Rangers fan in your life. Oh, and Potvin sucks!