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Goons on Ice

By Alasdair McClintock on June 21, 2016 in Sport

Photo: Wayne Gretzky

Photo: Wayne Gretzky

If you have nothing to do this Queen’s Birthday long weekend, you should put on some winter woollies and head out to Penrith (okay, I know I’ve probably lost you already, but try to stay with me) for the 2016 Australian Ice Hockey League All-Star Weekend. I have absolutely no intention of doing so myself, but I’d like at least one person to go and give me a report on the festivities.

Ice hockey has always held a queer sort of affection in my heart since my early years playing NHLPA Hockey ’93 on Sega Mega Drive. We would stay up all night playing this exotic game, and names like Steve Yzerman and Sergei Federov are forever burned in my psyche (I played with the Detroit Redwings).

The highlight, of course, was the fights. If you felt the game getting away from you, you’d try to start a bingle and injure one of the opposition’s star players. I’m not sure what this says about my ten-year-old self, but I’m comfortable in blaming the game for encouraging me to behave like that. Because that’s what people do, isn’t it? People only steal cars because they’ve played GTA, right?

I’m sure the ice hockey connoisseurs out there will be shaking their heads as I debase their game to a violent slog fest, and for this I apologise. I acknowledge there is also an incredible amount of skill needed to play ice hockey. My own experience of ice skating is looking like a nervous simpleton for a few hours and then limping away with a sore tailbone and dented pride. Put a puck in front of me and I’m likely to slip over and swallow it.

Make no mistake, though, it is also a brutal sport. They have players whose sole role is to come on and start fights to change momentum – kind of like the lowest level of suburban rugby league, except the players are on a different kind of ice.

These ‘enforcers’ might claim they only respond to dirty play from the other side, but I’m not buying it; I’ve seen ‘Goon’. If you haven’t, and you like sports movies, I highly recommend you do (it has recently started streaming on the local version of Netflix). It has Sean William-Scott in it, but don’t let that deter you; it’s some of his best work. Based on a true story, it follows the unlikely path of a guy who gets drafted to play professional hockey, primarily because he can hand out a beating when necessary. Confrontingly violent, it is also quite uplifting and heartfelt. Who doesn’t like an underdog story?

The fact that there is even a functioning ice hockey league in Australia is an underdog story in itself. The idea of this sport thriving here seems so incongruous with our sun soaked lifestyle. I like it. I’ll be damned if I’ll head out to Penrith to watch it, but I love the fact I could if I wanted to.