Surprisingly, the drama surrounding hockey has often translated to well crafted film experiences: it's hard to tap the sheer essence of Paul Newman in Slap Shot, there's the tugging-at-the-heartstrings true story of Miracle, and plenty of people have a soft spot for The Mighty Ducks, which spawned an entire franchise. You can also choose to go arthouse with Mystery, Alaska, or even indie with the iconic rooftop hockey scene in Clerks, which I'm including just because of Kevin Smith's predilection for wearing hockey jerseys.
But if you want to get to the pure heart of old-school, enforcer-focused, cement-head hockey, then look no further than Goon.
A disappointment to his parents – especially in comparison to his doctor brother – Glatt happily lives his life as a bouncer while watching hockey games with his best friend Pat (Jay Baruchel, one of the film's screenwriters). But a chance encounter with an angry player during a game gives Glatt some attention, where his brawling is noticed by the local team's coach.
Although he doesn't even know how to skate, Glatt soon makes a name for himself as an enforcer: hockey's term for the aggressive, troublemaker on ice. And it's not long before that draws the attention of an NHL minor team, where Glatt is hired to enforce for star player Xavier Laflamme (Marc-Andre Grondin), who has been sent down after losing his nerve following a severe concussion.
Further complicating Glatt's rise to blockhead fame is Ross "The Boss" Rhea, played by Liev Schreiber. Once a star that Glatt and Pat idolized, Rhea too was busted down to the minors following a violent incident and was the player that stripped Laflamme of his nerve. Thus sets in motion the triangle of the film's conflict: Glatt struggling to be recognized as a hockey player and not just a brainless brawler, Laflamme eager to spectacularly flame out with drugs and hookers, and Rhea wanting to retire after this season as the top man on the totem pole.
Glatt proudly defends his team, the Halifax Highlanders, even going as far as to polish the team's emblem on the locker room floor after Laflamme defiantly spits on it. Although he can't skate that well and isn't someone the team ever sends the puck to, he loves his team and is willing to do anything for them. While Glatt strikes up an uneasy alliance with the reluctant Laflamme, he also begins a very sweet romance with hockey groupie Eva, played by Alison Pill, who steals the show with her performance as Kim Pine in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.
Despite the fact that he bloodies faces for a living and doesn't have much going on upstairs, Scott's Glatt is an extremely emotive character, and you find yourself rooting for him. While billed as a comedy, Goon takes a serious turn in the third act, even turning dark a few times throughout. But ultimately, it takes you into the world of an enforcer, and winds up being a touching and entertaining film. If it hadn't been for Moneyball, I would have said that Goon was easily the best sports film of 2011.
Goon is available to stream on both Amazon Instant Video and Netflix Watch Instantly, and is also available to purchase on both Xbox Live Marketplace and the PlayStation Network. You can also pick up the DVD or Blu-ray, both for under $20, and as usual, the Blu-ray offers the lion's share of extras with tons of extra footage, a hilarious (and pretty filthy) commentary track from director Michael Dowse and co-writer and star Jay Baruchel, and even fake hockey cards for the team.
But you can also just tune in for the credits in any version, where you can see highlights from Doug Smith's career as a goon. The film is based on his book Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey. Both Smith's book and this film are enough to make you wish the NHL 13 had included a pure enforcer mode. Instead, we'll have to turn to our fond memories of NHLPA Hockey '93 as the one of the bloodiest hockey games of all time.
Kevin Kelly is a writer and pop culture junkie with a fixation on video games, movies, and board games. His writing has been seen at Moviefone, io9, Film School Rejects, Machinima, TechRadar, Wizard World, G4, The Austin Chronicle and right here on Joystiq. He lives in Los Angeles and does not know how to surf. Follow him on Twitter @kevinkelly.