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'Goon' stirs hockey passions

Jay Baruchel might be the most knowledgeable hockey fan in the movie business, a guy who when you bring up his beloved Canadiens thanks you for asking, then launches into a disquisition about the team’s history and current roster.

He said he watches the vast majority of the Habs' games each season, but he added doing so has “given me an ulcer like you wouldn’t believe.’’

So he understands the complicated subject of hockey fighting in general and fighters in particular, and why the film he helped write and in which he appears, the self-explanatory, based-on-a-true-story “Goon,’’ has stirred controversy in his native Canada.

Still, he wishes people would chill.

“Listen, this is not a commercial for hockey,’’ Baruchel said Friday during a promotional stop in New York. “We had no interest in making a movie to sell people on hockey. So if they have their preconceived notions, they are not going to our flick. Our flick was made for people that love the sport and so we focused on one aspect of it.

“People connect to different aspects of hockey. Some people love the scoring, some love the hits, some love the goaltending. It’s as diverse as music, as history, as literature, as anything. To try to make some sort of all-encompassing hockey thing, you’d need 13 hours. We couldn’t do that.

“What we did was focus on arguably the least-understood position in all of pro sports, that of the hockey enforcer. What single position spurs that much debate and is that much fodder for talking heads? And I see precious few of the boys themselves chiming in. I see everyone else chiming in but not the boys themselves.

“It was my chance to give these guys their moment in the sun, because I see nothing but beauty in what they do. I don’t know that the movie has any politics to it. It’s neither anti nor pro. I think our movie is a celebration of the boys that do this tough job.

“And it’s amazing, because I have friends on both sides of the debate, truly. The guys who are anti fighting take ownership of it as a cautionary tale and the guys that are respectful of it take it as a good example of why we believe it should be in the game. Different people project different things on it, because all it is is a love letter to these boys.’’

The tale, based on the real-life story of former minor league enforcer Doug Smith, focuses on Doug Glatt, played by Seann William Scott, an accomplished fighter and unaccomplished skater who tries to make his mark in the dark corners of hockey’s minor leagues.

It is a comedy, but one filled with graphic fighting violence and R-rated humor.

Scott grew up in Minnesota but did not know how to skate well before production. Fortunately, his character isn’t much of a skater either.

“I did do all my own stunts, so all those scenes of me falling, that was me,’’ said Scott, perhaps best known for his role as Stifler in the “American Pie’’ movies.

Scott was not the only American with a key role in the mostly Canadian film who had to take skating lessons. Liev Schreiber plays a veteran enforcer seemingly destined for a showdown with Scott’s character, and the script called for him to be a Canadian and a credible skater.

“It was a challenge, but I like challenges,’’ he said. “I like mixing it up. I like surprising people and I like surprising myself. When these guys called me and said, ‘Would you be willing to play a professional Canadian hockey player?’ I thought, I have no business playing a professional Canadian hockey player.’’

But Schreiber said he was big and physical enough to pull off the role, and was ready for action after he had been “kind of sitting on my butt taking care of the kids. I needed something physical to get me back in shape.

“I figured I’ve got probably got five or six years left of hockey in my body and this was a good opportunity to learn the game from professionals, so I took it.’’

It was as challenging as he anticipated. “The first three weeks of training camp were just horrible,’’ he said. “There are muscles in my legs and groin I never knew existed I was suddenly acutely aware of. But after the first three weeks it started to get better very, very fast and I really started to love it. I think it’s a fantastic game.’’

Schreiber, 44, did most of the skating, playing and fighting himself. He is so confident as a skater now he recently took his 4-year-old son, Sasha, on the ice with him. And he is looking for an adult hockey league.

“I’m currently looking for a very, very ugly and very, very gentle league to join so I can keep playing,’’ he said.

Baruchel, whose credits include “She’s Out of My League’’ and “How to Train Your Dragon,’’ said Schreiber sent a video of himself practicing two or three weeks before production began and impressed the Canadians involved in the film, and even Baruchel’s mother, who admired not just Schreiber’s skating.

“She said, ‘Is he doing a Canadian accent?’’’ Baruchel said. “I said, ‘He really is!’ He nailed the accent, he nailed the skating, he nailed the look. He nailed the energy.’’

Schreiber said he never has been much of a spectator sports fans, but that he came to appreciate hockey during his work on “Goon.’’ In studying the sport and role of enforcer, he spoke to long-time NHL tough guy Georges Laraque.

“The one thing I’ve learned about Canadians is they’re crazy about hockey, and that passion for the game is really infectious,’’ he said. “The really incongruous thing was the sweetness, the kindness.

“Really, I think that defines hockey players to me, an incongruous blend of incredible toughness and discipline combined with sweetness and gentility that’s really incredible.’’

In the United States, the movie was released on video on demand Friday and will hit theaters in limited release March 30.

New York Sports