Hockey fight in Canada

Goon revisits the golden age of punch ’em up puck flicks

What would hockey be without goons? No one would argue that they’re the game’s most skilled players seldom are they the most attractive or articulate and they probably have as many foes among hockey lovers today as they do fans. But for better or worse it may well be the goons who have played the greatest role in shaping the sport’s image in the public consciousness. If not for them Rodney Dangerfield would not have famously quipped: “I went to a fight the other night and a hockey game broke out.”

Some say the term “goon” comes from the English word gooney which means simpleton while others say it stems from gunda a Hindi word for hired tough but Goon takes both possible root words to heart. The film tells the story of Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) a good-natured bouncer who’s not the sharpest blade on the ice. However he’s a formidable fighter a skill he reveals when he pummels a minor hockey player for insulting his friend Pat (Jay Baruchel) at a game they’ve attended drawing the attention of the local team’s coach. Invited to try out for the team Doug again reveals a willingness to punch first and ask questions later and makes the cut. Before long he’s taking down opposing goons left and right earning the rather obvious nickname “The Thug.”

Baruchel and co-writer Evan Goldberg who are both Canadians took the film’s hired tough aspect from the book Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into a Minor Hockey League which tells the story of Doug Smith a former boxer who ended up slamming opponents into the boards instead of onto the ropes. The idea that Goon ’s hero would have more brawn than brains meanwhile was inspired by the documentary Le Chiefs which focuses on another minor-league goon one Mike Bajurny. Like Doug Bajurny apparently struggles to explain to his more intellectual family that he really isn’t destined for anything greater than beating opposing players into a bloody pulp.

In addition to these sources Baruchel had a more personal inspiration for Goon : his late father. A onetime player on an all-Jewish hockey team in Montreal the elder Baruchel passed on his love of the game to his son including his admiration for its goons. Baruchel has yet to follow his father onto the ice (asked if he’s ever played hockey his response is an instant “fuck no”) but credits him with having a great impact on the film.

“My knowledge and understanding of hockey and my introduction to hockey and to the world of the hockey enforcer all of that stems from my dad” he says. “There’s a lot of my dad’s voice in this movie and in some ways to me it’s a bit of a tribute to him.”

Born the son of Irish immigrants director Michael Dowse may not have shared Baruchel’s family history with hockey but his past still prepared him well for bringing his script to life. The Calgary native had already mixed comedy and violence in his Fubar films and with this project he’d be able to incorporate hockey as well. While he speaks highly of Miracle and The Rocket: The Legend of Rocket Richard he didn’t think the sport had spawned many great films in recent years an opinion there’s certainly some evidence for ( National Lampoon’s Pucked and Most Valuable Primate anyone?). When approached about directing Goon he saw a golden opportunity to remedy this.

“I hadn’t thought previously that I had to make a hockey film” he says “but once it was presented I felt like I had to make a hockey film. Because I felt that except for a few examples at least within the last 20 years it hadn’t been done properly in English.”

Even the better hockey films released during that time period are overshadowed by 1977’s Slap Shot almost universally hailed as the greatest puck-and-stick flick of all time. Paul Newman’s performance in it hasn’t endured as one of his most memorable but it conferred lasting fame on the Hanson brothers the trio of goons brought in to boost a flagging team’s popularity.

Dowse readily acknowledges the similarities between Goon and Slap Shot (although the former’s also been likened to Happy Gilmore ). He consciously copied the gritty grainy look it shares with other ’70s-era sports movies and the two films have a similarly puerile sense of humour. But while he knew there would be no escaping comparisons to this classic he wasn’t seeking to slavishly imitate it either.

“It’s hard for us not to think about that film” he says. “When I first read the script which Evan and Jay had done so well I noticed that they’d sort of taken the tone of Slap Shot but made it their own. That’s sort of the guiding principle of how we wanted to approach this. We wanted to definitely make it our own thing but also tip the hat to Slap Shot . I don’t think you can make a hockey comedy without doing that.”

The makers of Goon may have been inspired by Slap Shot but they weren’t seeking to create pure slapstick; Dowse wanted the film to have a sheen of authenticity as well. Accordingly Scott and castmates Marc-André Grondin who plays Doug’s much more talented teammate Xavier Laflamme and Liev Schreiber who plays fellow tough Ross Rhea all had to learn or relearn to skate. Although body doubles took their place on occasion the actors appeared in almost all of the on-ice scenes impressing Dowse with their commitment.

“I’ve gotta say everybody took it pretty seriously and took the hockey pretty seriously” he says “and that was a very important thing for me and themselves to make sure the hockey looked realistic and fast and brutal and it felt like you were watching a game.”

Of course the film’s realism only goes so far. However realistic the on-ice action is there’s certainly no real-life counterpart to Baruchel’s character Pat the openly gay host of a hockey-centred talk show who greets callers with the words: “You are blowing Hot Ice.” Pat’s a constant source of sympathy and support for Doug in the film going so far as to thoughtfully offer his uh services when he senses Doug is down. But this unusual aspect of their relationship aside Baruchel says he drew upon a long line of sidekicks in crafting his character.

“It’s a very kind of classical template for the — I won’t say mentor character but there are guys who spur on the hero to greatness in everything from Rocky to Arthurian legend the fucking Midnight Cowboy there’s sort of guys beside them at their side who are in large part responsible for kind of pushing them onto the path that they get onto.”

His choice of character was also Baruchel acknowledges “borne of my laziness.” Not at all athletic he had no desire to portray a player in the film. But that hardly mattered given that with Goon he got to determine the faceoffs the fights and the final score.

“My job in large part when writing this thing was to think back and think ‘What is the most exciting stuff you experience as a fan?” he says. “And therefore I think that whatever those specific experiences are they were totally as [exciting] if not more exciting than being an actual player on the ice. And so it was just putting the most exciting things that happen in a hockey game all into one movie.”