Originally posted on Bloguin Best  |  Last updated 10/22/13
When you're able to make Mike Milbury, famously abrasive hockey analyst, a sympathetic figure over the course of a 90-minute documentary, well, you've certainly accomplished something. Unfortunately for ESPN and Kevin Connolly, the latest installment of their 30 for 30 series profiling former Islanders owner and professional con artist John Spano, that's just about all they accomplished.  Disregard the fact that the first 20 minutes were spent on a whirlwind adventure through Connolly's childhood where the Islanders were the kings of the 1980s, you're then asked to briefly embark on a journey through the franchise's post-dynasty existence, which was decidedly less memorable. You know, the franchise that was given the keys to the league penthouse with stars such as Bossy, Nystrom, Smith, Gillies... oh no, I'm doing it now too. After the Oilers had brought their reign to an end, the team steadily wilted over a 10-year period in which their yearly playoff hopes were about as durable as Pierre Turgeon's shoulder socket. Under the waning leadership of John Pickett, who did more or less did nothing to cultivate or develop talent, the Islanders fell on hard times. But you wouldn't know that between commercial breaks and shots of Connolly at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum at age eight. Once we're introduced to Spano, we get a surprise cameo from a familiar hockey personality, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. Surely, his role in this film was to shed some light on how an oversight of this magnitude was anything but the League's fault. Because, you know, the National Hockey League doesn't have an extensive history of legislative blunders under his leadership or anything. But predictably, through segments narrated by Connolly's boyish fanatical voice in which at one point he mistakes the Islanders for a "legendary NHL franchise," Bettman gives off the vague impression that the people on his end did essentially no investigating on Spano. As the story is told, if a guy claims to have $165 million to buy a hockey team, who are they to cry foul? I don't know about you, but that kind of legal strategy already has me excited for the end of the next collective bargaining agreement in 2020. As interesting as it was to see Spano tell his side of the story, it was equally as frustrating to see Connolly's reactions to his comments, like our friends at Awful Announcing said. It's as if he declared himself the face of the average New York Islanders fan. But for all it's shortcomings, Newsday's John Valenti, who famously broke the story of Spano fleeing the country, and Peter Botte of the New York Daily News gave quite an interesting play-by-play of Spano's demise, and just how much an entire community had been fooled. Brian Rosenberg, who served as Vice President of the luxurious Garden City Hotel during Spano's tenure as Islanders owner, which rivaled Neil Smith's as General Manager, also gave insight into just how close he was to pulling this off. According to Rosenberg, when it all hit the fan it was merely a matter of days before a group he was spearheading would give Spano the funding he needed to smooth everything over. Despite the documentary being centered around Spano, it was Milbury who shined the brightest. Iron Mike did what he does best when describing exchanges with Spano a number of times: he berated him. But the easily detestable NBC Sports personality simply came off as a frustrated hockey mind dealing with an awkward man who knew very little about the actual sport. He was hamstrung by Spano as a coach and general manager. In fact, Milbury's exchange with Tom Croke, co-founder of the Save the Islanders Coalition, in which he physically threw Croke out of the team's Uniondale office, perfectly summed up the garbled signals Spano was sending to his subordinates. But in the final minutes of the film, there sat a humbled Spano--choked up at times--explaining to Connolly why he tarnished the happiest memories of his childhood. It felt like little more than reconciling a vendetta from years ago, and accepting a broken man for who he has become. While the story of John Spano is certainly fascinating, Kevin Connolly's production of it was more of an apology to a loyal fan than a thorough investigation of events. [follow]
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