Written by GSH Blogger Scott Antcliffe- A Gongshow Hockey Blog Exclusive
I first came across Doug ‘The Thug’ Smith aka Goon as a young uninspired 16-year-old boy starting to play the beautiful game of hockey. Being from the U.K. hockey isn’t exactly part of our culture like it is in the U.S. or Canada. No live games on TV, no pond hockey and only 45 ice rinks in the whole of the UK for a population 63 million.
I searched on the Internet for hockey books that I could read, and I soon came across Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey. I read the review and it instantly grabbed my attention. Four days later it had came through my letterbox and I began to read Doug’s story.
Doug like myself got into the game at a rather late age. He didn’t lace them up until he was 20, as he was focusing on his career as an amateur boxer in Michigan. He decided to transfer his pugilistic skills from the ring and onto the ice, and within a few years he was soon living the dream when he made it all the way to the AHL as an enforcer, showing that with a lot of hard work and dedication you can truly achieve your dreams.
There are some similarities between Doug and myself, but where Doug managed to achieve his dream of playing professionally, unfortunately I didn’t achieve mine. I am however working for a professional team in the U.K. called the Sheffield Steelers where I write articles for the match night programme and also for a website called ProHockeyNews.
When the trailer for the film ‘Goon’ hit the Internet and I realised that the film was based on Doug Smith, I knew I had to get in touch with him for an interview. I trawled the Internet and managed to get in touch with Doug, who was kind enough to share his thoughts about the film, his career and the sport which we all know and love.
SA: Who were your sporting/hockey idols growing up as a child?
DS: I grew up with guys like Paul Stewart, Nick Fotiu, Tim Hunter, Jay Miller and Dwight Schoefield as my hero’s…I didn’t really like any one particular team but individual players for what they brought to the table.
Before hockey players came into the picture I used to admire boxers such as Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Robinson, Rocky Marciano but Marvellous Marvin Hagler was my all-time number one.
SA: Could you describe your first hockey fight? And how it felt?
DS: My first hockey fight was against a nobody in a men’s league and it felt great because I caught him with a picture perfect punch and put him down. My first real opponent came in a summer men’s league when I faced off against a proven minor league tough guy in Bill Whitfield who had played in the Atlantic Coast League/East Coast League. I hung in there pretty well against an experienced fighter but he got the better of me that night…and it still felt great to have a fight against a guy like him even if I lost.
SA: Given the choice over again would you have preferred it if you had had more playing ability to compliment your toughness?
DS: Of course. I always thought that if I accomplished what I did with only 3-4 years of skating to my credit, if I had been skating since I was a kid like almost everybody else I may have not only lasted longer but I may have also made it to a higher level.
SA: What’s the biggest attribute you need to be a successful hockey fighter?
DS: Well you obviously have to have the skills to fight, and the hockey balance to be able to withstand your opponent’s power that he puts onto you. You certainly don’t have to be a hockey player to be a good fighter, which is exactly how I trained. I didn’t care about carrying the puck, scoring goals or anything about the game itself. I just wanted to learn how to keep my balance and throw punches before my opponent landed one on me. Last and probably just as important is you need the willingness to do the job. Many, many players think they can and say they will do the job but when their time comes to drop the gloves they turn around and go back to the bench.
SA: What are your thoughts about recent news stories and research on CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), a brain injury caused by repeat concussions. Or do you think has been blown out of proportion and that the sport should be left to its own devices a little more?
DS: I could comment on this forever but I’ll make it short and sweet. Fighting in hockey hasn’t done as much damage to players as body checks have. More players, especially the skilled guys like Crosby and the top tier players are all out because of body contact and NOT FIGHTING. So the NHL needs to take a look at the equipment for starters and the rules on how to body check an opponent without causing injuries before they just point the finger at fighting and ruin the game by banning it.
SA: Could you describe your first game in the ECHL, and how it felt?
DS: I was on cloud nine to get the call to play in the ECHL for the Carolina Thunderbirds. My first game was against the Knoxville Cherokees and they had two of the tougher fighters in the league in Alex Daviault and Greg Batters. Both guys could throw and both had a lot more experience than I did when it came to dropping the gloves, but I challenged both of them and did pretty well despite my inexperience. Batters was a draft pick for Los Angeles and could play the game as well as fight and the book on him was that he could throw with both hands. Davialt was a kid from Quebec with a face that was full of scares from the numerous fights he obviously had. I remember landing a left on the nose of Davialt and dropping him to the ice.
SA: Did you ever attack a player out of spite/malice? Or did you only fight willing participants?
DS: No I actually wasn’t a GOON so to speak and never attacked another player. I truly enjoyed fighting because of my boxing back ground as a kid and I had full confidence in my ability so I never felt that I needed to jump someone to try and get an advantage over him even if he was bigger or taller than me. I always wanted a straight up, face-to-face square off and arms length out, may the best man win.
SA: Who do you think is the toughest player in the NHL past, and present?
DS: That’s a pretty tough question because you’ve had some pretty damn tough guys play this game for 50-60 plus years. But to answer the question I’ll say my favourite toughest players would be Bob Probert, Terry O’Reilly and Tie Domi.
SA: Obviously the role of an enforcer is very different to that of a goalscorer or star player. How did you mentally prepare for games, knowing that there was a good chance that you could be badly hurt in a fight that game?
DS: I never felt like I would get hurt and actually besides only a few fights I didn’t. Again my confidence in fighting was solid it was my skating and balance that worried my which is why I tried to work at that so hard. As far as the mental aspect of the game, yes I would obviously read the rosters of each team and find out who was the fighter on each team and get prepared to go to battle with that guy just like I would in the ring…it was easy really.
SA: What was the most memorable fight you have been involved in? On and off the ice?
DS: OFF the ice: I fought in the finals of the New England Golden Gloves Tournament as a heavyweight but lost on a decision and even though I didn’t win I was so happy to make it thru the preliminary rounds, week after week, to get to that point that I felt I had accomplished a lot. I had also got my nose broken a few weeks earlier in sparring at the gym while training so the pain I had in the fights leading up the finals was awful every time I got hit with a jab or punch.
DS: ON the ice: My first real pro game in the AHL against Frank Bialowas, and again even though I lost I was in heaven that I had made it to that level, the second best league in the world and fought a guy who was considered the heavyweight champion of the league and who had just fought Tony Twist a few nights earlier when he was called up to the NHL himself. Bialowas could have easily told me to screw when I challenged him because he knew I was a nobody and only there for the one game but he gave me my chance and I love him for it.
DS: You’re talking to a guy who never thought he would get a game in a men’s league never mind professional hockey so for me to play “anywhere” including the AHL, IHL or ECHL was a gift from the heavens so no it wasn’t disappointing at all.SA: After various stints in the AHL and IHL, you went back to the ECHL. Was this frustrating?
SA: You’ve certainly played with some interesting characters in the past. Any interesting stories? Or any crazy incidents?
DS: I remember a night in the New Brunswick Senior League when my teammate Jacques Mailhot was so bullshit with some of the players on the other team that he jumped into their bench trying to get at a few of them for shooting of their mouths. That was a wild scene for sure. My only regret was that I couldn’t join him as I had been escorted off the ice into my locker room for an incident a few minutes earlier.
SA: So how did the movie first come about?
DS: Simply put, one of the producers wanted to make a movie (Official Movie website Here) about a hockey fighter and went onto the Internet and “GOOGLE” the word “GOON” and up popped my book. He read it and loved it and the rest is history.
SA: It must be a huge honour to have Sean William Scott play you and have the likes of Live Schreiber in the movie. Was there a point when you thought is this really happening?
DS: As of today, I still can’t believe its happening. Not to sound like a broken record but just like when I played I can’t believe I got into even one professional game never mind as many as I did. And to have a book written about your endeavours is even crazier…now a movie? It’s so unbelievable to me personally I really don’t know how to act or react when people ask me about it. It just doesn’t seem real. And to have true Hollywood Class A actors in our movie is even more unbelievable to make it that more legit.
SA: What was it like to work with Seann William Scott? Is his persona away from the screen as wacky as it is on it?
DS: I actually never got to work with Sean because I’m not actually in the movie. I did though meet him at the movie premier at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) and to say he was a great guy and true gentlemen would be an understatement. We talked for quite a while that evening and he was just like you or I…a regular guy. He was very excited to finally meet me in person, as I’m sure my story, book and history had been in his face for the past year while filming the movie. But for me it was awesome to hang with him and the other cast members like Jay Baruchel who was super cool and Liev Schreiber and the coach of the team Kim Coates was great too. Michael Dowse was also very receptive to me when we met and was nice enough to invite me on stage the night the movie premiered to introduce me to the crowd, which I thought was a class move.
SA: How accurate do you think Doug Glatt’s character was like you in the film?
DS: 50/50. I’d hate to think I was as big of a dope as they have portrayed him to be in the movie but I was actually very nice and polite to my opponents when asking to fight. Our book does have some common similarities as the movie but most of the movie is Hollywood script.
DS: Here again is another position in professional hockey that I never thought I could attain. I was hired back in 2001-2002 by the Boston Bruins GM Mike O’Connell who felt that teaching the European and college players how to protect themselves would be an asset to their personal development and teaching them confidence to go along with their skills would help them achieve what the organization felt they were capable of. NHL teams invest tons of time and money on draft picks in hopes that they will someday make it to the NHL level and help the parent club to a championship and a player who may be scared or intimidated to go into the corners or in front of the net may never reach that because they lack the toughness or basic know how to defend themselves when the gloves come off. The names of guys that I had the honor of working with over the years is staggering and to this day I still have great friendships with most of them as it really was a bond we had together as they quickly learned that I was there for them and they trusted me entirely. Guys like McIntyre, Orr, Bonvie, Walsh, Doull, Downey and the list goes on…not only great students of the fight game but great people to call friends.SA: I understand that you work with the Boston Bruins organisation as a consultant? Particularly working with enforcers such as Steve Macintyre and John Scott. This must be a great role for you?
SA: Are you involved in hockey in any other ways?
DS: I still hold summer fight camps with NHL skating guru Paul Vincent who has his summer power skating clinics for professionals of all levels and it’s there that I get out on the ice with guys and run them through various drills for balance, punching power and different conditioning drills. I also recently became a linesman thanks to a good friend Geno Binda who felt I was still young enough to do the job. I currently line the FHL (Federal Hockey League) and juniors in my area.
SA: I understand now that you are a police officer in a town just south of Boston. What made you want to become a Police Officer? Do you believe your protective nature from being an enforcer helped with this choice of career?
DS: I had grown up around cops from the gym that I belonged to in Hanover, MA. So I knew it was a career I would follow. And yes there are many similarities between the two jobs I have had but the basic line is that I do enjoy helping others who can’t help themselves and being somewhat of a protector is the common denominator.
I’d like to thank Doug Smith for his time and efforts with the interview. It just goes to show that even without being naturally gifted or talented on the ice, that if you work hard at something and give it your all, you can get there!