BREAKING INTO THE NHL:
director Kevin Connolly tells the story of how John Spano
deviously purchased the New York Islanders.
By Duane Watson
New York Islanders made five successive Stanley Cup
appearances in the early 1980s, winning four in a row
and an unrivalled 19 consecutive playoff series.
Yet in the 12 seasons that followed, they only made
the post-season six times. Then in 1996, Dallas
businessman, and New York native, John Spano,
purchased the team for $165 million, and was hailed as
the saviour of the franchise. However, a minor glitch
began to unravel in the transaction - Spano didnít
have the money.
After taking ownership of the team it was revealed
that Spano forged multiple documents, had a net worth
of only $5 million and clearly wasnít in possession of
the assets required to close the deal. If this sounds
like the makings of an investigative documentary, it
is - Big Shot is the second hockey film as part of
ESPNís award-winning ď30 For 30Ē series, airing in
Director Kevin Connolly, widely recognized from
his role in the TV show Entourage, grew up in
Patchogue, New York as a passionate Islanders
fan. In Big Shot, he tells the story of Spanoís
house of lies - deceiving a franchise, a fan
base and the NHL - and chronicles how it all
came crashing down.
Interviewing former players, coaches,
journalists and federal investigators, Connolly
crafts a story infused with his own affection
for the Islanders and sheds light on one of the
most bizarre corporate takeovers in sports
TFP: How did Big Shot come about?
Ciardi of Mayhem Pictures was one of the
executive producers and my partner on this. He
produced Secretariat, he did Miracle, heís like
the sports movie guy. There was another director
on board and I was going to narrate the film.
Then the director fell out, and I slipped in
there at the last second and took over the
TFP: How important was it for you to tell
really is a cliché the passion project thing,
but it never could be more of a case of a
passion project than this. It was never work for
me ever, sitting down for these interviews with
Clark Gillies and Bobby Nystrom and Wayne
Gretzky, interviewing these guys that were gods
to me growing up. Gary Bettman couldnít have
been more helpful and to his credit, there was a
certain amount of trust that he had. Iím telling
a story that was a touchy topic for the NHL. Not
that heís afraid of my questions, heís a smart
guy, Iím no Mike Wallace I donít think he was
afraid of my hard-hitting questions. He made the
story very easy for me and he could have made it
difficult. It was nice to have the cooperation
of the Islanders and the NHL they were great.
TFP: Was it difficult to get John Spano
involved in the film?
was very reluctant. The fact of the matter was
in hindsight, the movie wouldnít have been
nearly as good without him obviously, but him
not doing it wasnít going to stop me from making
the movie. I think once he realized I was making
the movie with or without him, he realized it
was in his best interest to have his side heard.
TFP: What drives a man to think he can buy a
$165 million dollar hockey team and not have the
money to do it?
funny because this is before Mark Cuban, this is
before the super owner, in a nutshell that was
his end play, thatís what he wanted to be. The
crazy thing is, he wasnít driven by greed and
thatís one thing Iím sure of. After working on
this movie for as long as I have, he really just
wanted to kind of roll in the club, order a
couple of bottles and be the man.
is very much your story, you narrate it, you interview Spano, your face is
on camera... Did you find you had to walk a balance between being too much
of the story versus being a storyteller?
KC: Truth be told, to me
the less you saw me the better. I didnít want the story to be about me,
believe me, the last face I want to look at is my own. I think it was
necessary to make the point that this is the real thing for me, hereís the
proof, thatís me. There were discussions where they wanted to see even a
little bit more of me and I was very conscious and didnít want it to be
self-indulgent. It was something that I was hypersensitive about.
think it was important, particularly with the shots of you as a youngster,
because youíre an Islanders fan.
KC: I was a kid hanging
outside the locker room for two hours after the game, waiting for them to
sign my jersey. I was a real, real fan, I didnít go to school when they
would lose big games, when they lost that fifth cup I was in a coma,
TFP: When Big Shot
airs, the Islanders will be one-year away from starting their first season
in Brooklyn. Is this documentary an obituary of sorts, reminding people of
the franchiseís legacy, before it moves in a new direction?
KC: It was important to
illustrate what a good team the Islanders were and how good the franchise
was. Thatís no disrespect to any other franchise in the NHL, but it was a
pretty established franchise that this guy was toying with. I think people
have gotten used to the Islanders troubles and they forget, 19 straight
playoffs series, a record that will probably not be broken, in any sport.
Those are important statistics and it was just great to go through, I
couldíve made the whole movie about the cup run. Itís funny, the timing of
it is interesting because those developments all sort of happened during
the process of making this film. The fact that now the ironic thing about
the move to Brooklyn is this is happening as the Islanders are getting
TFP: Whatís your
earliest or fondest memory of the Islanders?
KC: Obviously, I was a
very young and tender fan when they were going through that cup run. But
my one great moment was when the Islanders broke the record for
consecutive victories before overtime. So if you were ahead at the end of
the third period, that was it. The Islanders had won 14 straight and the
score was tied with like a minute to go and I remember listening to it on
the radio and the Islanders beat the Colorado Rockies to win their
fifteenth consecutive game.
TFP: Whatís your
KC: Give me Billy Smith
in goal. I canít believe Iím going to bounce Bryan Trottier out for (John)
Tavares at centre, but can you imagine Tavares centering for (Mike) Bossy
and Gillies? On defence, (Dennis) Potvin and I would have to go with one
of the old guys Dave Langevin.
TFP: What other
projects are you working on?
KC: I just finished
directing a film in Colorado called Dear Eleanor. So I was directing that
and then Iím starting a new TV show called Friends with Better Lives, itís
a CBS comedy that Iím acting in. Then weíre shooting for trying to do the
Entourage movie this fall.
TFP: How excited are
you for this Entourage film?
KC: Thatís like getting
asked to go back and redo your senior year at high school. Canít wait for
that, weíre just trying to hammer out some of the details, itís tough
lining up peopleís schedules, but weíre shooting for end of
October/November, thatís the plan.