NEW YORK – The irony isn’t lost on Jay Baruchel.
“Goon,” the film in which he co-starred and co-wrote, came out in 2011. “Goon: Last of the Enforcers,” the sequel Baruchel co-wrote and directed, was released in the U.S. on Sept. 1. These films depicted the bloody joys and perilous pitfalls of hockey fighting, while celebrating the life of Doug Glatt, the titular “goon.” They are valentines to puck pugilism.
Yet in the span between these films, fighting in the NHL continued to be in a steep decline, despite a small uptick in 2016-17.
Watching cinematic goons in 2017 is like going to a museum to see an extinct animal.
“It’s called ‘Last of the Enforcers’ for a reason,” said Baruchel.
Like many fans – Baruchel is a die-hard Montreal Canadiens backer – he’s had to pick his side in the decades-old debate over fighting in the NHL. (Spoiler: The guy who made a movie called “Goon” is fond of it.)
“The debate has always been between people who like fighting and people who don’t like fighting,” he said, during an appearance on the PUCK SOUP podcast this week in New York.
“With medical data, the people that have found it unpalatable now have a moral reason to find it unpalatable. Whereas I feel like the greatest ill for players facing head trauma now is hitting from behind and elbows to the side, getting cheap-shotted. When two men drop their gloves and elect to fight each other, they’re exerting agency. They’re electing to be there. When a kid gets run into the boards from behind, they don’t have a choice in the matter.”
Does he miss more frequent fighting in the NHL?
“Of course. I try to not imbue my opinion with a morality thing, but I grew up watching that game. And my dad played that part of the game, and loved that part of the game,” he said.
Yet Baruchel knows that the world of hockey has changed, perhaps irreversibly.
“I still think we are in the majority, the people who enjoy it. But history has decided that it’s gone and it doesn’t have a place in the game anymore,” he said. “I also understand all the reasons why people want to get rid of it.”
In “Goon: Last of the Enforcers,” Glatt (Seann William Scott) is forced into retirement after a horrific injury and the movie tracks his comeback attempt to set things right, both on the ice and in his soul. While the first film was a crackling comedy about the game – a rich tapestry of inside references for puckheads – the second “Goon” is a comedy about the characters we followed in the original. As in, if you liked the characters from the first film, you’ll enjoy hanging with them again.
(And you will really enjoy the addition of a new one: Wyatt Russell’s Anders Cain, a “Goon 2.0” player who fascinates with each new layer of his character that’s revealed.)
But “Last of the Enforcers” does get into some dark territory about hockey fighting, with references to post-concussion syndrome in veteran players and the very real “life after hockey” struggles for fighters.
That includes a fictionalized version of “Battle of the Hockey Enforcers,” the 2005 tournament that featured ex-players in an on-ice fighting tournament. In the sequel, that’s where Glatt finds his former rival Ross “The Boss” Rhea (Liev Schreiber), hanging on the last rung of the hockey ladder.
“We thought that this was a pretty strong storytelling device for our characters, because it’s a real [expletive] thing. We just made it more operatic,” said Baruchel. “When you take the emotional game context away from a hockey fight, and it’s just two guys doing it … when you rob hockey fighting of the context of hockey, it’s distilled to its ugliest thing.”
In a film about the raucous highs of hockey fighting, Baruchel felt it important to show the lowest lows.
“You don’t want to end up there. Or, god help you, you do, because it’s a cousin to what you used to do when you played hockey,” he said. “They haven’t been able to say goodbye, but they know they should.”
PUCK SOUP is the hockey podcast from Puck Daddy editor Greg Wyshynski and Dave Lozo of Vice Sports and The Comeback. This is a hockey podcast, in the sense that the talk about hockey, both on the ice and about fan culture. That’s the “puck.” This is also a podcast about movies, TV, fast food, life lessons and general idiocy. That’s the “soup.”
[WARNING: NSFW AND ADULT LANGUAGE]