30 years later, Bemidji’s Joe Prokop reflects on appearing in ‘The Mighty Ducks’
Prokop, a current Bemidji youth hockey coach and referee, was instrumental in one of the film's most memorable moments.
BEMIDJI — A lot goes into making a major movie production.
The execution of the beloved 1992 Disney hockey feature film “The Mighty Ducks” was no exception. In addition to the stars of the show, Disney required several hockey-playing extras to facilitate the gameplay shown in the movie, as well as the fans in the arena stands.
Released on Oct. 2 of that year and set in Minneapolis, the story chronicles Gordon Bombay, a hotshot lawyer and former youth hockey star, who finds himself coaching a down-and-out Peewee squad as penance for a recent drunk driving arrest.
For Joe Prokop, a Minneapolis native – and current Bemidji youth hockey coach and referee – the opportunity to join the project came at the perfect time.
“I was going to middle school at the time,” Prokop said. “Our middle school was right behind the Basilica of St. Mary down in Minneapolis. We walked over to Parade Ice Garden, a handful of us, and we did (some) skating. There were some people upstairs, and they were kind of looking in our direction.”
Those observers turned out to be looking for extras to appear in a film under the working title “Bombay,” and Prokop was scouted as a potential candidate for the project.
“They asked me some questions, asked me if I played hockey,” Prokop said. “I looked at them and I said, ‘I’m from Minnesota, everybody plays hockey.’ They asked me if I was good. I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m good.’ … Then I went on my way back to school and got a phone call. They said, ‘Hey, do you want to be a part of the movie? We're doing some filming downtown. We need some extras.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, sure.’”
Over the course of a few winter months, Prokop got a front-row seat to big-time filmmaking. Though not a part of the movie’s core cast, he spent plenty of time around the stars.
At times, he was in the stands as part of the crowd during competition scenes. Other times, he was out on the ice, helping comprise the teams the Mighty Ducks faced off against.
His most notable moments included doubling for Fulton – the Mighty Duck with a shot no goalie would dare attempt to stop – and, fittingly, as the Cardinals forward who dented Ducks defenseman Karp’s cage with a slap shot.
“That's me skating down with the puck, and it's actually a foam puck that I had to hit him in the head with,” Prokop said. “(The director) said, ‘I want you to hit him right on this side.’ I said, ‘OK.’ We come down, boom, I hit him first shot. He forgot to fall down. So let's just say two and a half hours and a lunch break later, we finally got it close enough.”
Off the ice, Prokop did manage to snag a photo with star Emilio Estevez, who portrayed Bombay, the Ducks’ coach.
“He's short,” Prokop noted. “That's one of the pictures I have in my (scrapbook), where I got my arm around him. In seventh grade, I'm taller than him. And I wasn't that tall back then.”
Prokop compiled a bound composition of all the keepsakes he accumulated from his time working on the production, including diary entries of each day’s events and photos from the set. It features many of the main characters – Ducks team members Charlie, Fulton, Banks, Hall, Goldberg and of course Bombay are included, plus a shot of Prokop wearing a wig and Ducks uniform while doubling for Fulton.
When the film finally came out, Prokop and his family couldn’t see it soon enough.
“I was in it. And then my mom brought me (to the set) every day,” Prokop said. “So my mom was actually an extra every day I was there, too. I have a sister that's a year younger, and she would come with sometimes when they wanted more (people). I have twin brothers who are five years younger than me, and they got to participate and be an extra now and again. So it was kind of a big family (thing). And we made sure we saw it opening weekend.”