Taking a jab at the silver screen
An unlikely enforcer on ice inspires film
His head leaning against the cold metal of the bathroom stall, Doug Smith struggled to slow his breathing and regain focus.
Minor surgery days earlier had caused an infection, prompting doctors to insert two small tubes into his chest, attached to catch bags that Smith now could see were filling with yellow and black pus.
Physicians had told the 29-year-old part-time Hanover police officer and professional hockey journeyman to avoid physical activity for at least a month. But 48 hours later, Smith sat nauseated in a New Brunswick locker room with a one-day contract with the American Hockey League’s Moncton Hawks in his pocket and Frank “The Animal’’ Bialowas on his dance card.
Smith closed his eyes as he grasped the tubes and yanked. After covering the incisions with tape, Smith slipped his shoulder pads and jersey back on and headed for the bench.
Ten minutes later, stained in blood from shoulder to skates after a Bialowas roundhouse right caught his left eye, Smith was back in the locker room. As the team physician practiced needlepoint, a trainer snapped Polaroids of Smith for his wall of fame collection.
“I can’t recall if the doctor shot me up with any pain killer,’’ Smith said. “I was too numb with excitement, maybe contentment, to feel much pain. I knew I had made it to this level — the second-best hockey league in the world — and fought the toughest guy in the league!’’
That moment from New Year’s Day 1994 was a highlight of the surreal hockey life of Doug “The Hammer’’ Smith, who despite not learning how to skate until he was 19, managed a 10-year, on-and-off, minor league hockey career.
His story, chronicled by close friend and Hanover native Adam Frattasio in his 2002 book “Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey,’’ will soon make its way to the silver screen. Likely to be released in September, the $11 million feature “Goon’’ finished filming in Canada last month.
It stars Seann William Scott — perhaps best know as Stifler in the “American Pie’’ movies — as Doug Glatt, a barroom bouncer from a wealthy Massachusetts family who, despite zero hockey background, uses his fists as a road to professional sports. The script was written by Evan Goldberg (“Superbad’’ and “Pineapple Express’’).
“I remember standing in a suite high above the ice at the rink watching as they filmed some game scenes,’’ said Frattasio, who traveled to Winnipeg last November. “It really hit me then that someone was making a movie about my book.’’
Frattasio is a GED teacher at Norfolk Correctional Center who befriended Smith when he moved to Hanover at age 15 from Quincy. If Frattasio’s journey from unknown author to movie inspiration seems outlandish, it pales in comparison to Smith’s ride from 1988 to 1998, when the 1982 Hanover High School grad played for seven pro teams in three leagues in two countries.
Never mind that Smith had all the skating skills of a walrus. “What I did know how to do was fight,’’ said Smith, a Golden Gloves boxer who as a teen spent hours with Frattasio at the Hanover Police Boys Club. There the two would spar, wrestle, and watch video of hockey fights for hours on end. Eventually, both began dressing up in hockey gear to imitate their favorite NHL brawlers.
Eventually, Frattasio convinced Smith that at 6-feet-2, 235 pounds, and with a redwood-solid uppercut, he could be one of “those guys on film.’’
Despite what Smith described as “atrocious hockey ability,’’ he used a connection to gain entry into a high-end summer hockey league in Hingham — just to experience an on-ice fight.
One melee involving Smith caught the eye of a local scout, who called him a “terrible ice hockey player, but a good fighter.’’ The scout offered Smith a tryout with the Carolina Thunderbirds of the single A East Coast Hockey League.
With goalies lapping him in skating drills and other hired guns in camp, Smith was soon cut. But he came home determined to make it with a pro club one day, and worked tirelessly on his balance on skates and his fight strategies.
A month after being cut, Smith got a call from a Thunderbird official. Their resident tough guy wasn’t tough enough, said the official, who invited Smith for another try. Smith, who was walking a beat in uniform at the Hanover Mall at nights, drove all night to Winston-Salem. Twenty-eight games and 179 penalty minutes later, he owned a league championship ring.
“I still have the ring,’’ Smith said last month. “I’m very proud of it. I worked for it. Winning that title taught me how much I enjoyed what I was doing.’’
For much of the next decade, Smith shifted seamlessly between patrolling the streets of Hanover and patrolling rinks in Massachusetts, Arizona, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Quebec — wherever an on-ice bodyguard was needed.
“I knew what my job was; I was there to make sure nothing happened to a teammate. I wasn’t there because I could skate or score,’’ said Smith, who tallied four “accidental’’ points and 404 penalty minutes in 60 games. “The coach would send me out during game stoppages so I could line up with the other team’s fighter.
“People used to tell me I was lucky to be playing for a paycheck, and I never argued with that because it was true.’’
His final season came with the 1998 Springfield Falcons of the AHL. He played in one game, picking up no points and, worse, no penalty minutes. He was 33 years old and it was time to concentrate on being a police officer.
He joined the Hanson Police Department a year later as a full-time patrolman, but kept his hand in the game by teaching minor league players from fight-free Europe and the college ranks how to protect themselves in a battle.
“For 10 years, I quietly worked for the
Despite the brutality of Smith’s role in hockey, he notes that enforcing comes with an unwritten code to respect a player who declines a fight and never hit someone after he has fallen.
“We were all part of a fraternity,’’ he said. “We knew what our job was. It didn’t mean we were animals.’’
Smith knows that “goon’’ has a negative connotation, but that comes with the position. “Those of us who fought knew our role and respected each other and the game. We called each other ‘enforcers.’ We didn’t call each other ‘goons.’ I don’t think I ever played against a ‘goon.’ ’’
While he did suffer broken bones, Smith said he escaped hockey concussion-free. “When I was playing, concussions never entered your mind,’’ said Smith, “and even if I knew then what we know today [about concussions], I still would have been an enforcer because you love the thrill of combat.’’
As for the movie, Smith said, “I tell people who think Adam and I are now rich over this that it was our book, but it’s someone else’s movie. But it is amazing to know a movie is made based on my life and Adam’s work.’’
Looking back on his life, the husband of Sharon and father of daughters Vanessa and Victoria said the secret to his success was nothing more than “being at the right place at the right time.’’
Not to mention possessing an uppercut that could take the roof off a house.
Robert Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.