The best of Charlie Conway
Joshua Jackson, also known as Charlie Conway from the Mighty Ducks films, turns 40 this Monday. The heart of District Five/Team USA/Eden Hall JV thus becomes the protagonist roster’s seventh actor to reach this milestone. Only Elden Henson, Marguerite Moreau, Vincent Larusso, Colombe Jacobsen, Aaron Lohr and Kenan Thompson are older.
Throughout the trilogy, Charlie’s presence and absence is more conspicuous than that of any other team member. This notion is validated in D3, when Gordon Bombay vacates his coaching post and his former captain’s continued commitment proves the X-factor. Charlie’s bitterness and brief leave sinks the JV Warriors/Ducks before his happy return buoys them.
While D3 best exposes Charlie’s shortage of perfection, each movie offers an early glimpse of the young Jackson’s acting range. His breakout character is there when the soon-to-be Ducks are underprivileged peewees making mischief with their excess free time. He is also serious when the situation darkens, and catalyzes every turning point for the team.
Whether he elicits laughter, motivation or relief, the best examples of Charlie’s quick wit and Duck devotion are as follows.
Best persuasive speech: “You made us…”
When Gordon contemplates stepping down after a rift with his players, Charlie pleads with him to reconsider. He reminds the midseason replacement of how he has transformed their fortunes and identity. To that point, he notes, “We weren’t even the Ducks until you came along! You made us and now you’re stuck with us!”
Fast-forward to the end of regulation in the state final. Charlie has just been hooked on a breakaway, drawing a penalty shot. Upon suggesting Charlie take the shot, Gordon reasons, “Let’s let him finish what he started.”
And why not? When the team’s playoff hopes were on the balance beam, the captain convinced the coach to finish what he started. By capitalizing on fate for the final play of the tournament, Gordon rightly returns the favor.
Best prank: Special brownies
Upon seeing the varsity kick Ken around, three other Ducks are determined to retort. Of the three, Charlie is the only holdover from the team’s last prank involving animal waste.
Charlie is clearly thinking back to when he, Averman, Karp and Peter tricked, then outran an unfortunate motorist. He knows the sources are available at Eden Hall for the same basic ploy, and he knows the drill.
The D3 edition of giving a greedy sucker literal crap, laughing and running has one key merit to set itself apart. Whereas the kids did not know their victim in the original, the varsity bullies definitely deserve this.
Best reason for picking a fight: Karp’s taunting
Unlike other brawls in the trilogy, the classroom clash starts with an uncalled-for joke about Charlie’s mother. Granted, Karp says nothing egregiously suggestive, but Charlie has every right to be peeved by the personal jab.
As a bonus, by turning words into physical confrontation, Charlie effectively brings the team together. When they are caught by the principal, they instantly unite with the “quack” chant that lands them in detention. There they meet with Gordon, who calls back to his aforementioned discussion with Charlie at the diner.
And from there, they ride from the bubble of the playoff bracket to the state title.
Best attempt at amends: “This is for Hans.”
You can hear the residual guilt in Charlie’s voice as he leads his team out for the varsity game. He is still clearly haunted by the way he closed his last conversation with the team’s late Yoda figure.
During his separation from the team, Charlie had entered the shop and vented his frustrations over his new coach. Try as Hans does to help Charlie see the bright side, the ex-captain resists enlightenment. He insists that his teammates are “the ones that are slipping away from me.”
After Hans dies, Gordon fills his role and finishes persuading Charlie to embrace his new arrangement. Though Charlie cannot apologize directly to Hans, he can redeem himself while the old mentor watches from the ultimate skybox.
Best act of defiance: “You can’t make me cheat.”
The greatest captains emerge in those rare tests of integrity when a superior is in the wrong. The rewards Charlie reaps from this moment may have gone to his head by D3, but they are appropriate in the original.
Recall that learning “fair play” was one of the objectives of Gordon’s community service assignment. It takes one of his 10-year-old players choosing to lose fair rather than dive to get that puck rolling.
There is a downside to the timing of this display of moral superiority, though. Charlie still has a point when he calmly confronts Gordon during an intensive practice in D2. But he also shows undue difficulty shaking off the Duck spirit, the same problem that plagues him in D3.
Best bending of the rules: Coach McKay
When Team USA faces premature elimination, Charlie proves he is not quite an integrity absolutist. With that said, the ends excuse his deceptive means.
If Gordon’s absence forces a forfeit of the pivotal Germany game, the fault is all his for going MIA. But if the innocent players are to dodge the price, someone must get creative and enlist a convincing chaperone.
Once again, as in the original, Charlie handles this bitter pill better than in D3. In the absence of the man who made this team, he puts said team first. His leadership qualities and quick mental reflexes bring the tutor behind the bench, filling the void until Gordon’s ceremonious return.
Best selfless gesture: “Banks! They’re coming hard!”
Someone took Gordon’s advice to “forget the past” to heart after District Five gave way to the Ducks.
In their regular-season meeting with the Hawks, feared and envied scorer Adam Banks comes hard at Charlie. After a botched breakaway, Charlie is decked from behind while in a vulnerable position.
But when the cross-lake rivals meet again for the championship, Banks and Charlie are allies. The vengeful Hawks will take no prisoners, but Adam’s old victim and new linemate will do everything he can to ensure he has his head up.
Sure, it was outstanding the way he relinquished his roster spot for Russ in D2’s gold-medal game. He also does Goldberg and the team a favor (even if the recipient does not appreciate it) on D3’s final play. But in this case, Charlie is the one overtly looking out for someone’s safety. (Unfortunately, he could not do much when McGill seized his opportunity in the second period.)
Best lesson for Goldberg: “You’re not supposed to light it on fire!”
From the first practice and warmup in the original to the final play in D3, Charlie regularly pulls Goldberg out of his comfort zone. Early on, he uses his words and his stick to get the goalie accustomed to pain. After the goalie becomes a skater, the redeemed captain persuades him to become a scorer.
But one must take physical discomfort in moderation, and pick one’s spots in taking it. To that end, Charlie comes to Goldberg’s rescue when his marshmallow twig starts resembling a 19th-century torch. With the last spoken word in D2, he promptly extinguishes the flame, sparing his teammate consumption of carcinogens.