John Spano in a New York Islanders jersey.
(Photo : Photo Credit: Newsday)
For years, the New York Islanders have been looked down upon by the hockey world for their lack of success on and off the ice. The team has not won a playoff series since 1993 and has only made the postseason four times in 18 years. The Islanders have become a punch-line for disparaging jokes that point to poor contracts given to such players as Alexei Yashin and Rick DiPietro. Ownership problems and its decaying arena have not helped matters.
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However, the Isles look like they are slowly returning to the positive limelight. The team clinched a playoff spot Tuesday afternoon, April 23, and already has a deal in place for a move to the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn. The team's rise in prominence is surprisingly accentuated by the new ESPN's "Big Shot" which is directed by Entourage star Kevin Connolly. The documentary showcases a dark episode in the franchise's history.
As the film starts, viewers are shown the glory years when the franchise pulled off a historic 19 straight playoff series victories and four Stanley Cup championships. The opening sequence creates a tremendous sense of nostalgia and reminds the world that the franchise, despite its recent hardships, is one of the most iconic in NHL history. After creating the setup, Connolly weaves his way into the 1990s where the team enters into its first period of ownership and financial difficulties. With no seeming light at the end of the tunnel, a savior arrives: John Spano.
For the uninitiated, Spano was a Dallas "tycoon" who was supposedly worth billions (PLOT SPOILER: He was nowhere near that status). Spano entered into negotiations with prior owner John Pickett and what resulted was fraudulent scheme with surprising twists and turns.
Connolly does a magnificent job of showcasing a number of Islanders' bigwigs in the documentary, including former (and despised) General Manager Mike Milbury and hockey broadcaster and analyst Stan Fishler. Spano himself makes an extensive appearance and Connolly's choice of cutting between him and other adversaries (such as Milbury) during sequences in the documentary adds some comic relief.
The film offers a comprehensive narration of the details though one does find Connolly's own voice-over narrative a bit awkward in some instances. While all the other speakers have a serious demeanor, his light-hearted and giddy delivery often feels out of place in the context. The recreated scenes also feel unnecessary. Most of the film features "talking heads" intercut with photographs or highlights of past Islanders moments; this style works so well that when the aforementioned recreations appear, the effect is a bit jarring and distracting.
Overall, this documentary is a well-paced account of a tough episode for the storied franchise. Islander and hockey fans in general likely know the story well, but the conversations with the major figures involved only elevates this enthralling account.