Goon movie raises questions about hockey enforcers

The movie Goon, scheduled for wide release on Friday is generating a lot of buzz about fighting in hockey.
Liev Schreiber as Ross (The Boss) Rhea in Goon. (Alliance Films)

The movie Goon, scheduled for wide release on Friday is generating a lot of buzz about fighting in hockey.

It's found some fans among reviewers, in part for its appreciation of the sport's bruisers and for its realistic hockey scenes.

But with the current focus on concussions and last year's suicide deaths of  two former real-life enforcers, it's also generating a lot of debate, CBC’s Teddy Katz reports.

The violence starts from the opening credits, as a brutal fight on the ice whips the fans into a frenzy.

Director Michael Dowse says he set out to make a comedy about the unsung heroes of Canada's game.

"What we wanted to do with the film is shine the light on these these unheralded athletes," Dowse said. "These guys that sacrifice pretty much everything to inspire their team or protect their teammates or open up some ice…and I think what's happened is that sometimes the sacrifice becomes too much."

Goon stars Seann William Scott (Stifler of American Pie) as Doug Glatt, a bouncer who finds fame when he joins a local hockey team and beats down his opponents, much to the delight of fans. Liev Schreiber plays minor leaguer Ross (The Boss) Rhea, a veteran looking at stepping down from the game.

The movie was inspired by a book based on real life events and written by actor-writer Jay Baruchel.

Along with the on-ice violence, there is a comic edge to Goon. The hockey world could use a laugh, Dowse said.

But releasing this movie now troubles CBC Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman — especially after the tragedies last summer.

"This is probably the worst time that a movie like this could come out even though maybe the intent isn't to be political about it," Friedman told CBC News.

In a four-month period in 2011, three National Hockey League enforcers  died tragically — Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak.

Schrieber, who learned to skate to play one of the aging goons, says he came away feeling a connection to the real players who died. They include Bob Probert who died in 2010 of heart failure at age 45, about the time the film was being shot.

"I read a lot about Bob Probert and really, really grew very close to him in my own mind, emotionally, and thought he was a wonderful guy and a wonderful player and obviously a great enforcer as well," said Schreiber told Canadian Press.

"While I didn't base the character on him, I think he was certainly in my heart while I was playing it."

With files from The Canadian Press, Teddy Katz