To finish off our Three-Down Theatre series of season preview posts, here's the final edition, on the B.C. Lions. They're trying to defend their 2011 Grey Cup title with new coach Mike Benevides, but former coach Wally Buono is still around in the general manager's role, and he's been working hard to improve an already-impressive team. It's going to be interesting to see how well the Lions do this year.
Film: D2: The Mighty Ducks
We'll see if the Lions can follow up their win the way the Ducks did.Although most of the actual hockey scenes are completely ridiculous, D2 is still an amazing sports movie, and the central premise of it is quite applicable to these Lions. The Ducks are coming off a significant victory and going on to an even-greater task, representing (with a few additional star players, similar to the additions the Lions made) the U.S. at the Junior Goodwill Games (not like there are actual international hockey tournaments for young players or anything). Meanwhile, the Lions' 2011 Grey Cup victory was certainly impressive, but now they face the even-tougher task of defending their trophy; since the Edmonton Eskimos wrapped up their string of five straight Grey Cups in 1982, only two teams have gone back-to-back, the 1995 and 1996 Toronto Argonauts and the 2009 and 2010 Montreal Alouettes. Those are stiff odds, perhaps equivalent to entering a random Minnesota hockey team in an international competition, and it's going to take something special to overcome them. We'll see if the Lions can come together when the chips are down the way Team USA did.
Both the Ducks and the Lions have inspirational leaders in Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez) and Wally Buono respectively, and things have changed for both since the last championship. Bombay went on to become a minor-league star and was expected to make it to the NHL, but suffered a critical knee injury and then was offered the chance to coach "Team USA" (mostly ex-Ducks) at the Junior Goodwill Games. He had to change his style a bit to deal with how his players had aged and developed, and he had to work to incorporate the new additions to the team. Buono never actually left the Lions' organization, merely giving up his head-coaching job to focus on his role as a general manager, but that's still going to be a significant transition for him, and he'll have to work to find new ways to relate to the players. Bombay ran into numerous off-ice distractions before finding a creative way to deal with them, and while that seems less likely to be an issue for Buono, Bombay eventually figured out how to excel in his new role. We'll see if Buono can do the same.
If Buono is Bombay, new head coach Mike Benevides has to be Charlie Conway (Joshua Jackson). Conway was one of the most important figures on the original Ducks, becoming Bombay's protégé and eventually winning the crucial game with a penalty shot move Bombay taught him. Benevides has followed a similar path, working with Buono as a special-teams and linebackers coach from 2000-2007 (in both Calgary and B.C.) and then as a defensive coordinator from 2008-2011, and he's taken on more and more responsibility over the years. He's done a good job, too; while B.C.'s offence got much of the praise for their remarkable turnaround last season, the defence may have been even more important, and it led them to victory in the 99th Grey Cup. Conway shines with his play during much of D2, but his most crucial contributions come when he recruits street hockey star Russ Tyler (Kenan Thompson) and when he decides to sit out of the championship game to make way for the return of injured star Adam Banks (Vincent Larusso). Similarly, Benevides won't be able to have as much immediate influence on the defence now that he has head-coaching responsibilities, but he's found a terrific replacement in long-time CFL DC Rich Stubler; giving up his direct role may work out just fine for the team.
A notable element of D2 is how most of the players have a clearly-definable role, and many of them have analogues on this Lions' team. While not a figure skater, new cornerback Byron Parker's balletic moves en route to returning interceptions for touchdowns (something he holds the CFL record in) make him similar to Ken Wu (Justin Wong), while newcomer Jabar Westerman's ferocious tackling could make him Dean Portman (Aaron Lohr) to Khalif Mitchell's Fulton Reed (Eldon Henson); that's a fearsome pair of Bash Brothers. Kierrie Johnson's blazing speed could make him the Luis Mendoza (Mike Vitar) equivalent, while Lin-J Shell's positional versatility and potential surprise-weapon status make him a good Russ Tyler. Star slotback Geroy Simon seems like the Adam Banks of this team, while Arland Bruce's eccentric nature might make him Dwayne Robertson (Ty O'Neal). Starting quarterback Travis Lulay could be team goalie Greg Goldberg (Shaun Weiss), while impressive backup Mike Reilly might be Julie "The Cat" Gaffney (Colombe Jacobsen); left on the bench for most of the film, she comes through in a critical moment. The team's also already pulled off a uniform change. The key question is if Benevides can give speeches like this, though, and if this team has any knucklepucks up its sleeve. Given the all-star cast they've assembled, I wouldn't bet against it.
Prediction: 12-6, first in West, West Division champions, Grey Cup champions.