Hockey thugs battle for Toronto film fest spotlight

Thu Sep 15, 2011 4:52pm EDT
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By Cameron French

TORONTO (Reuters) - In a year when hockey violence has come under increasing scrutiny, two films at the Toronto Film Festival examine the role of the sport's enforcers, who make it to the big leagues using their fists rather than their skating skills.

Alex Gibney, who won a best documentary Oscar in 2007 for "Taxi to the Dark Side," attacks the subject through the eyes of 1980s enforcer Chris Nilan, while Canadian director Michael Dowse takes a comedic approach with his feature, "Goon".

Long a staple of professional hockey, enforcers are the guys a coach sends out when an opposing player takes a cheap shot at one of your top scorers.

A few broken teeth later, justice has been served.

But while a good brawl can bring fans to their feet, it comes at a cost for the tough guys like Nilan, who patrolled the ice for the NHL Montreal Canadiens in the 1980s.

Like many young players with more grit than talent, Boston-born Nilan ended up making what Gibney calls a "Faustian bargain", or deal with the devil.

"They want to play hockey in the show, but they're not good enough to be (a scorer), so they know their way in is to be the enforcer, to be the guys who fight," Gibney told Reuters.

Nilan's pugilism won him the love of fans and a hallowed place in what Gibney calls a "golden age" of hockey enforcers.   Continued...