The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers Season 2 Review: New Ducks Fly On Their Own, But Nostalgia's Shadow Still Looms

"The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers" on Disney+ did a fine job of reviving the beloved family friendly sports franchise for a new generation. The series basically took the bones of the original movie and expanded them into a 10-episode story arc that took the ultra-competitive, powerhouse youth hockey team that the Mighty Ducks had become, had a scrappy new team of underdogs knock that chip off their shoulder, and brought them back down to Earth for a little reminder that hockey is also supposed to be fun. 

Led by 12-year old Evan Morrow (Brady Noon of "Good Boys") and his mother/makeshift coach Alex (Lauren Graham), complete with a little help from crotchety former coach Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez), the team known as the Don't Bothers squared off with the haughty, elite youth hockey team and reclaimed the name of the Mighty Ducks for themselves, albeit in an unofficial match after a technicality kept them from winning the official championship game. 

So what's in store for "The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers" in the second season? There's a change in the roster, for both the players and the coaches, and a cross country journey to a summer hockey camp that has echoes of "D2: The Mighty Ducks." But thankfully, it branches further away from the sequel's formula with mostly successful results. However, the shadow of nostalgia and the hope for a continuation of the meaningful connection with the original movies and their characters still looms large.

Season 2 gets EPIC

"The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers" doesn't waste any time thrusting the team into the next chapter of their youth hockey careers. But first, there's a big elephant in the room that they have to address. Actually, it's more like an elephant who isn't in the room because they refused to adhere to the mandatory COVID-19 vaccination that was required in order to be part of the production. That's right, as you might have heard, Emilio Estevez's return as coach Gordon Bombay was axed because the actor refused to comply to Disney's COVID-19 vaccination requirement. So how does the show handle it? 

The first season recap of preceding the second season premiere of "Game Changers" barely mentions or shows the involvement of Bombay in the rise of the new Mighty Ducks. Furthermore, Bombay's rundown hockey rink known as the Ice Palace, which had become the Ducks new home, has been condemned, providing an easy reason for the previously reluctant coach to be absent while the team heads off to EPIC (the Elite Performing Ice Center), an invitation-only hockey camp in California run by the intense and dedicated former NHL player Colin Cole (Josh Duhamel). Don't worry, the season premiere somewhat makes up for the lack of Bombay with a nostalgic cameo (and reunion) that will make fans of the Bash Brothers very happy.

However, that brief reunion is the last dose of nostalgia seen in the first four episodes provided to the press for review. The good news is that the absence of Gordon Bombay may actually turn out to be a blessing in disguise, giving a chance for Alex to rise up to the challenge of being a solo coach in an unfamiliar environment, and allowing the new Mighty Ducks to fly without lingering too much on the past

Smaller team, shorter episodes

The second season of "The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers" finds the team split up, forced to compete against each other and an impressive assembly of skilled hockey players from around the country. In fact, the new Mighty Ducks even being invited to EPIC actually turns out to be a mistake. Colin Cole had no idea that the previous Mighty Ducks had been replaced by this somewhat less elite squad of players. But of course, this serves as a chance for Evan and his teammates to prove that they have more than meticulously tracked stats and athleticism to make them shine, even if Alex thinks they're not quite ready for this level of competitiveness and intensity. 

Speaking of Evan's teammates, the noticeably more mature cast of "Game Changers" has been cut down a little bit. Gone are Logan (Kiefer O'Reilly), the dreamy Canadian kid with the slick hockey gear and zero hockey skills, and Lauren (Bella Higginbotham), the nerdy, fantasy-loving, cloak-wearing girl who found hockey to be a great way to channel her potential inner-rage while being part of a challenging quest. But we still have Nick (Maxwell Simkins), who offers much of the comedic relief and continues to be the breakout star of the young ensemble. What he lacks in athleticism, he still makes up for in heart and affable personality, though the podcasting element of his character isn't quite as prominent as the first season. Also sticking around is Swayam Bhatia as Sofi, who starts to fall away from the demands of hockey, creating a bit of a rift in her romance and friendship with Evan. Rounding out the team are Sam (De'Jonn Watts), Maya (Taegen Burns), and Koob (Luke Islam), who offer more of the family friendly comedic antics off the ice. 

Also cut down along with the team roster is the overall episode runtime. While the first season had episodes ranging between 30 minutes and 42 minutes, each of the first four episodes come in under 30 minutes. They're definitely breezy, which might explain the absence of those teammates from the first season, but it makes the story more lean, and the show never feels like it's overstaying its welcome. The only downside is that the hockey sequences aren't quite as prevalent, at least in these first four episodes. There's still plenty keeping the Ducks busy, especially with every single EPIC participant being tracked on a real-time stats board, pitting them all against each other for hockey supremacy, but the lack of actual hockey is missed, and what hockey makes it to the screen in these first four episodes still doesn't feel all that thrilling. 

Learning to fly

Fortunately, even with a lack of exciting hockey sequences, "Game Changers" manages to shine by digging deeper into the franchise's new characters. Alex's confrontational but friendly sort of rivalry with coach Colin Cole makes for a compelling new element of the series. It's not unlike the dynamic between Gordon Bombay and school tutor Michele MacKay, played by Kathryn Erbe in "D2: The Mighty Ducks." Thankfully, the romantic sparks that seem to be kindling there feel much more believable and significant. Meanwhile, the drama that unfolds between the kids isn't quite so compelling. The young relationship between Evan and Sofi doesn't ever feel like it's on solid footing, but that might just be because these kids are so young. But the camaraderie between the players grows in this new season, and they feel more like a proper team than ever before.

However, despite the fact that "The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers" seems to be taking off on its own, there's still the nostalgia that's lingering from the first season. There was not only a reunion between some of the original Mighty Ducks, who are now full grown adults, but also the tease of some kind of rift between Gordon Bombay and Mighty Ducks captain Charlie Conway (Joshua Jackson). It's not clear if Emilio Estevez will ever come back to "Game Changers," but that dangling thread demands to be dealt with. There will undoubtedly be some kind of nostalgic turn later in the season (we're waiting, Kenan Thompson), but will it be as meaningful as this season could have been with the presence of Gordon Bombay? We don't know the extent of the character's intended involvement in this season, but I hope any future storylines that relied on Bombay's presence won't be sullied by his potential continued absence. 

After the first four episodes, it's clear what the major dilemma will be for the new Mighty Ducks. Though this development will undoubtedly challenge them in a fashion similar to that of "D3: The Mighty Ducks," when Adam Banks was recruited for the varsity team instead of being kept on junior varsity, the combination of that element with the vibe of "D2" should make this a refreshing take on the previous sequels formula. "The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers" keeps carving its own path while simultaneously taking inspiration from the franchise that preceded it. Let's just hope the back half of the second season sets up an even more compelling direction for the team in a hopeful third season. After all, they're going to run out of movies to emulate sooner than later.

The Mighty Ducks season 2 premieres on September 28, 2022 on Disney+.