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Meet Doug Smith: The real life tough guy behind “Goon”

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Boston Globe

Doug Smith could kick your ass-or at the very least, he’d be the author behind that sore face you’d have the following morning.

When the Seann William Scott hockey film, Goon, became a cult favorite among cinemaphiles and hockey fans alike back in 2011, most people figured it was pure make believe. Nonsensical entertainment with no real backbone. They had no idea they were watching an interpretation of Smith’s life as a minor league enforcer who used a boxing background as the ground floor plan to place fists into other men’s faces on a sheet of ice.

When Smith and his friend, Adam Frattasio, decided to write a book that they figured a few people would read, Hollywood got wind of it and used it as the inspiration to make a movie. It was called Goon, and it spawned a sequel, Goon: Last of the Enforcers, which came out this summer.

Earlier this month, I spoke with Smith about his early days boxing, how he got into hockey, and the whirlwind nature of life that has taken him from the ring to the ice, and now into a family man and law enforcement.

Buffa: You averaged 6.37 penalty minutes over a six year career. You liked to fight.

Smith: I had an amateur boxing background, so I had been a boxer since I was kid. I knew how to fight and liked the competition. There was a role for a guy like me for when somebody on the other side acted up. You’d go out and take care of it. I was better at it than most, and unlike most guys, I liked the position.

Buffa: Brett Hull once said he wouldn’t be the caliber of player without guys like Kelly Chase and Tony Twist, the sheriffs on the ice.

Smith: I agree with you. Every skilled player behind closed doors will tell you the same thing. You guys just lost a real tough guy in Ryan Reaves, who went to Pittsburgh. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are skill guys. Their coach is an old school guy named Mike Sullivan. He understands what having a tough guy who will step up and protect teammates brings a roster and lineup. Skill players like having a tough guys. The league is trying to phase it out, but there’s a little wiggle room left.

Buffa: There’s something to be said when a guy wants to run a star player into the boards, he has to think about the consequences if there’s a guy sitting over there.

Smith: Of course. That role has been so prominent for many years, but the league is phasing it out, so you can see players taking that extra cheap shot because they don’t have to answer to anybody now.

Buffa: What were your feelings when Hollywood wanted to make a movie out of your book and story?

Smith: I knew I wasn’t going to have a long career, so I kept a journal about my playing days and would write the fights and who I fought. My buddy Adam said we should write a book. He put the book together. A Hollywood producer saw it in airport bookstore, and told us when he saw the cover of the book with the black eye and the word “Goon”, he read before he landed. He got on the phone with his writing team and said they needed to make a movie about an enforcer. It wasn’t going to be specifically about Doug Smith, but he loved some of the stories.

So we get a call from the publishing company that someone from Hollywood wants to buy the rights, and we were like, “you got to be shitting me!”. This was four years after it came out. We met with a team of writers and producers out here in the Boston area. There was a standard fee and more than likely, it won’t be made into a movie. They supposedly buy hundreds of books every year, so he asked if we wanted to take the money and have a few more bucks in our pocket. Adam and I took the check, and six or seven months later, we got a call that they were starting the script. We were blown away.

Buffa: Did you get a kick out of the actors who portrayed the enforcers in the movie? Guys like Scott and Liev Schreiber.

Smith: You are talking about guys who are legitimately class A actors. Schreiber was a legit actor, having done lots of theater and shows like Ray Donovan. They all did a really good job with the limitations they had. None of them could skate or play hockey. I think William Scott did a great job as Doug Glatt, even though I had wished they wouldn’t have made him such a dope. But as far as acting goes, I think they did a great job.

Buffa: After you were done playing, you went right into coaching at Hanover High School and eventually helped the Boston Bruins as well. How was coaching as opposed to playing?

Smith: My story was so unreal. I didn’t start skating until I was 20 years old and I didn’t play in my first hockey game until I was 22. And then I’m playing guys in the East Coast Hockey League when I’m 23. I think people could look at me and say this was a guy who really worked his ass off. Kids could look at me and go, “if this guy can go somewhere in hockey, so can I.” I was an inspiration to some kids.

The Bruins thing came up because I knew a few people in the organization, and I convinced them to let me coach some of the European players how to fight. They don’t fight over there, and they come over here and get roughed up, so my job was to show them how to defend themselves.

Buffa: You’ve trained with Steve McIntyre and John Scott in the offseason as well.

Smith: A friend of mine, Paul Vincent, was a skating coach and had a few classes after the season was over. Paul told me to come out and teach these players how to defend themselves. And then some of the real tough guys would come over to me and ask me to help them as well. I got to work with some real tough guys. I was teaching them better balance, how to throw a punch harder, or how to throw a punch with either hand. A lot of boxing background was incorporated onto the ice. These guys loved it, because they had a guy who could teach them how to defend themselves.

Buffa: It’s a unique kind of training. Telling someone how to fight on the ice is an artform.

Smith: I was really lucky. There’s a lot of tough guys who could kick my ass all day long, but being a fighter and a teacher are two different things. Some guys aren’t able to express themselves and teach others. I just knew what to do and it worked.

Buffa: These days, you are a police officer.

Smith: I’m a cop and work in a small town in Hanson, Massachusetts, which is probably a half hour from Boston. I work in a great town with good people. People say I was an enforcer on the ice and now you’re an enforcer in real life. I really enjoy it.

Buffa: Do you have those moments where you warn the guy under arrest that you used to do this for a living, so it may be best to just go sit in the jail cell and not resist?

Smith: I’ve been pretty fortunate. I haven’t had to bring my past life to the streets of Hanson.

Buffa: It has to be a cool feeling knowing that someone made a movie-albeit one that is unrealistic and tweaks to the main character-about your life.

Smith: Oh, I’m just blown away. I never even thought Adam and I would put a book together, but it happened. We are published authors and have a second edition coming out next month. I’m just an average joe who works 60 hours a week, but it’s a great feeling. I have a couple of daughters who have slowly getting a taste for what I did in my old life. TSN came down and filmed a little special on me, so we are both blown away to this day.

Tough guys like Doug Smith are a dime a dozen in the world of hockey and its long storied history of fighters, but few have such a unique story. A boxer who decided he wanted to play hockey. A hockey player who decided he wanted to coach. A coach who decided to write a book. A protector of men on the ice who made a choice to protect and serve a small town.

Sometimes, the cinematic nature of real life is hard to deny, and with Smith, the intrigue doesn’t die off quickly. A regular guy who goes to sleep at night knowing he can hold his own with most and still be a caring soul at the same time. Smith isn’t really a goon after all. He’s one of the good guys.

I speak to a lot of actors, writers, and athletes. Most of them come off as real down to Earth souls who just do something for a living, but the conversation is fleeting. Smith was something else. Talking to him made you feel the authenticity and whimsical combination that life can bring to a certain few.

You probably didn’t know the full story of Doug Smith yesterday. Now you do.

Thanks for reading.

Goon is available on DVD/Blu Ray and Goon: Last of the Enforcers is currently available On Demand through your cable provider.

You can purchase the book here.