Most hockey fans undoubtedly remember the 2012 movie Goon, which starred Sean William Scott as a bar bouncer who makes it onto a minor league hockey team because of his fighting prowess. That movie — which now has a sequel called Goon: Last of the Enforcers — is very loosely based on this book “Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey,” which came out a decade earlier and is currently out of print. Despite the dissimilarities between the movie and the book, “Goon” is a book worth tracking down.
“Goon” is the story of Doug Smith, a Boston-area native who did not learn how to ice skate until he was 20, but lived the unlikely dream of playing minor league hockey as an enforcer. Smith trained as an amateur boxer and loved hockey almost as much as he loved fighting. He and his friends would practice hockey fighting at their local boxing gym, suiting up in hockey gear and trying to master the different techniques used by NHL enforcers. Eventually, Smith and his friends took this to the ice, ending their midnight pickup games with fight practice.
After a summer spent playing in a rec league, Smith was noticed by a scout and given a shot at playing for the Carolina Thunderbirds of the newly-formed East Coast Hockey League. Smith’s 28-game stint with the Thunderbirds was the basis for the Goon movie, but that’s only the beginning of the real story. Smith also played a season of senior professional hockey in New Brunswick, becoming a local favorite, and then became a “goon for hire,” playing in games here and there for teams in the ECHL, IHL and AHL.
Smith talks about what it is like to be an average guy living the dream of playing pro hockey. He also gives details of every hockey fight he ever got into, including skirmishes with longtime minor-league heavyweight Frank Bialowas, future all-time career penalty minute leader Dennis Bonvie and several other tough guys who made it to the NHL.
Sometimes, Smith breaks his narrative to give background on the East Coast Hockey League and its predecessor, the Eastern Hockey League, senior professional hockey, the Allan Cup, and other subjects that the reader might not be familiar with.
Throughout the book are paragraph-long interjections from many of Smith’s teammates — and even opponents! These interruptions are welcome, as they give more depth to Smith’s character and more flavor to his stories.
Quote that epitomizes “Goon”: That’s why a lot of guys that I fought just got sick of me. I never could get enough. I was never satisfied and would never go away. I understood their problem, and they should’ve understood mine. I mean, a scorer wouldn’t be totally satisfied with one goal because two were always better, and as far as I was concerned two fights was better than one.
What I like about “Goon”: I loved reading about Smith’s experiences as the wide-eyed average guy, playing in front of large crowds and tussling with some of the toughest men from the 1990s. “Goon” is a quick, fun read.
What I do not like about “Goon”: The book is out of print, difficult to find and not exactly cheap — sometimes selling for four to five times its original $20 cover price! I almost didn’t buy “Goon” when I found it at a used book store because of its price, but after reading it I am glad that I did.
“Goon” was a book that I couldn’t put down. I hung on Smith’s every word. I absolutely loved his stories of minor league rough stuff, and hearing about many of his foes who eventually ended up in the NHL. The only real drawback to this book is that it is out of print, though you can pick up a used copy on Amazon. “Goon” is a very good hockey book to read, and considering its movie ties, a very cool book to own. If you can find a copy, do yourself a favor and read it. ■