Since the days of yore, or at the very least, my childhood, the sport of hockey has made my blood pump faster through my veins. Born across a lake from Canada into a family with a few notable hockey lovers, I couldn’t help but become enamored with the game of sticks, ice and grit. There’s nothing like a good old fashioned hockey game. Old time hockey, as someone once called it. And in every great hockey movie, like every great hockey game, you need a few things. You need a hero, you need a sage coach with relentless demand for perfection and you need some supporting players. The funny guy, the smart guy and the eccentric goalie. But chief among these sidekicks of stick is the enforcer – the toughest motherf**ker of the group. Whether he’s challenging the hero or watching his back, the enforcer, the thug, the goon is the guy who makes it all so much fun. Because everyone loves a good fight.
Inspired by a recent viewing of the awesome Sean William Scott led hockey tale Goon, about a bouncer who finds a true calling on the ice, in the line of knuckle-fire that permeates the world of minor league hockey, I would like to proudly present a list of cinema’s great on-ice tough guys. None of these man are the center of their particular stories. None of them get the girl. But they’ve all got the guts and the grit that it takes to challenge the hero, so that he can go off and get the girl while they lie toothless upon the cold, hard reality of the fact that they’re nothing but a bunch of thugs. And we owe them all the love in our hearts.
9. Racki, Youngblood (George Finn)
Sure, this 1986 classic starring the baby-faced pair of Patrick Swayze and Rob Lowe was about being a boy playing a man’s game, only to find the man deep inside and emerge victorious in hockey and love. But none of that would have meant anything if not for the momentary screen presence of George Finn as Racki, the bearded, hard-nosed adversary who wouldn’t let Rob Lowe, the “pretty boy,” get off easy. On the frozen surface of hockey’s battleground, men are mad with fists. And strange, completely unrealistic hockey stick slap fights.
8. Adam ‘Tree’ Lane, Mystery Alaska (Kevin Durand)
“I’m about to be on the cover of Sport Illustrated. That photographer said I have one of those expressive faces. A face that tells a story.” Damnit all, I love this movie. Even a trumped up performance from Mike Myers can’t bring down one of the most underrated sports films of all-time. And even though this one’s got a grizzled Russell Crowe, a grizzled Burt Reynolds and all the ridiculous fan-fare of the New York Rangers coming to play a group of local homeboys from the Great White North, it’s a young Kevin Durand who steals the show as a 9-foot tall tough guy with a softness inside him that will melt your heart. Which in turn will keep you warm, because it’s really damn cold in Alaska.
7. Rob McClanahan, Miracle (Nathan West)
Being based on a real person is what makes Nathan West’s delivery of that cocky guy from Minnesota all the more impressive. He was never your typical enforcer, but Mac got the job done when it came time to become the glue that would help propel the 1980 U.S. Men’s Hockey team to toppling communism’s red barricade and creating the greatest moment in sports history. Yes, the greatest moment in sports history. I said it. It’s true.
6. Ogie Oglethorpe, Slap Shot (Ned Dowd)
Somewhere toward the end of Slap Shot, just before it gets really ridiculous, the man who has loomed over the entire movie steps out on to the ice. Touted all along as the most vicious son-of-a-bitch 21-year old to ever lace up his skates, Ogie Ogilthorpe does not disappoint. Through all “the litigation, the notoriety, his subsequent deportation to Canada and that country’s refusal to accept him,” Ogie makes it to the final showdown with Reggie Dunlap (Paul Newman) and the Chiefs. And oh, what a brilliant moment he creates. Though his place on this list is solidified by the lore of Ogie. The build-up to his appearance is perhaps the most intimidating one afro’d man can be, and he never lets us down.
5. Fulton Reed, The Mighty Ducks (Elden Ryan Ratliff)
Fulton Reed may be the warmest and fluffiest of all the men on this list. But give the guy a break. By my count – which is being completely fabricated for the purposes of the second part of this sentence – he was about 13 years old in the world of The Mighty Ducks. And even though he was pubescent at best, Fulton was a wrecker. Early on he was the kid with the 100-mile per hour slapshot. In later films, he’d join Aaron Lohr (as Dean Portman) to form the “Bash Brothers,” wreaking havoc upon the youth of the world as Julie “The Cat” Gaffney made the big save. Sure, Joshua Jackson got to be the heart and soul, but Fulton was the man among boys.
4. Ross “The Boss” Rhea, Goon (Liev Schrieber)
“Know this shit hard. If ever there comes a time when it gets down to the marrow and it’s down to you and me. Kid, I will lay you the fuck out.” In Goon, the film that inspired this very list, Sean William Scott delivers an intensely nuanced performance as Doug, a tough guy coming into his own and learning where he fits in the world of hockey. But in order to become the Goon, Doug must go through the immovable object known as Ross “The Boss” Rhea, the toughest man on two skates. He’s got a classic hockey mullet, a major handlebar mustache and attitude to fill hundreds of arenas at once. All complete with the unflinching charisma that only a seasoned actor having a blast with a character can. Liev Schrieber is that man. This is that movie.
3–1. The Hanson Brothers, Slap Shot (Jeff Carlson, Steve Carlson, and Dave Hanson)
There is not enough room on this list for the wonderfully brutal world of the brothers Hanson. There is no such list without those boys and their toy cars. For the most part, they are bigger than average children with silly glasses. But when it comes time to put on the foil and go into the game, they know how to put on a rough-and-tumble show, eh? All of these men on this list have come since, and despite their best efforts – both in the realm of toughness and style – none of them have been able to come close to the pure joy of watching three grown men with taped up spectacles skate in unison toward an unfortunate victim. Who own da Chiefs? Who cares, as long as they keep those Hanson boys on the ice.
For those curious parties who also like hockey movies and tough guy stories, Goon is currently available on-demand. It hits theaters March 30. Whether you catch it in your home or in theaters, it’s more than worth watching. Check out the trailer below.