One of the greatest Cinderella stories in the history of sports is chronicled in “Valiant,” a well-crafted sports documentary from director Cruz Angeles. The movie tells the story of the historic inaugural season of the Vegas Golden Knights, a hockey team in the desert that defied all odds and not only went to the Stanley Cup Final in their very first year of existence, but helped heal and unify their new home city of Las Vegas after one of the worst mass shootings in our nation’s history.
I must disclose that, as a huge Vegas Golden Knights (VGK) fan, it is difficult to be objective when it comes to stories about “my” hockey team and “my” city, but this film is so inspirational and so well made that even people unfamiliar with the VGK story will find plenty to like here.
The documentary starts at the beginning, from the creation of the NHL’s expansion team by billionaire Bill Foley. Angeles includes a fantastic array of file footage of the expansion draft and, best of all, videos of all the (at the time) naysayers who unanimously asserted that the team was going to be a terrible failure (including them debuting with the worst odds ever: 500-1). There’s something so satisfying about the fact that the team proved all of them wrong — and in the grandest way possible.
It’s a feel-good underdog story too, as short interviews with players tell the story of how their teams left them unprotected in the draft, meaning they were either deemed to be too old or just not good enough to be worth keeping around. This rag-tag group of just okay hockey players earned the team the moniker of the “Golden Misfits,” one that served them well through their historic Cup run.
The film features interviews with many VGK talking heads and local celebrities, including general manager George McPhee, community entertainers (and fans) Lil Jon and Wayne Newton, city-based sports reporters and announcers, and players Marc-André Fleury, Deryk Engelland, William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Ryan Reaves. Get ready for the waterworks when law enforcement officers, first responders, and Las Vegas residents directly touched by the tragedy are given their time in front of the camera.
People who don’t live in Las Vegas aren’t truly able to grasp how much this hockey team means to us, but this film does an excellent job explaining the deep connection between these professional athletes and the hearts of the city. Some of the most gut-wrenching interviews are from locals who explain what the team means to them, in their own words.
It’s nearly impossible to have a dry eye when reminded of the devastating effects of the October 1, 2017 mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival at Mandalay Bay, an event that left 58 people dead and forever changed the city of Las Vegas — and one that forever ingrained the little hockey team that could into the soul of the city’s 2 million plus residents. If you want to understand why Vegas hockey fans are the way they are, this movie will explain it.
The team helped the city heal by turning our tears of sadness into tears of joy, and it’s something most of us will never forget. “Valiant” is a beautiful reminder of the magic, the anguish, and the uplifting story of the lifetime bond that was forged between a team that had nothing to lose and a grieving city that was desperate for a win. Angeles accurately captures that feeling in this documentary.