Hockey players who make their living primarily with their fists are described by a variety of names, but calling them goons is apparently disrespectful. That’s the premise behind Don’t Call Me Goon, in which authors Greg Oliver and Richard Kamchen attempt to portray these gloved gladiators as more than just pugilists – even if that’s really what they are.
The book traces the origins of hockey violence, beginning with the days of rough-and-tough characters such as Sprague Cleghorn, Bad Joe Hall, Red Horner, and Billy Coutu, who was suspended for life in 1927 for punching a referee to collect a $500 bonus. The game changed in the 1960s with the advent of enforcers – beginning with Montreal Canadiens’ winger John Ferguson – and spawned a brigade of brawlers who could also put the puck in the net.
Several fighters from the 1970s – the era of the Philadelphia Flyers’ Broad Street Bullies and the Big Bad Bruins – have already been covered in previous books, and many of the profiles in Goon reproduce quotes from these earlier works. Others are about current players who have little name recognition: contemporary enforcer Derek Dorsett is a nobody compared to the likes of all-time NHL penalty-minutes leader Dave (Tiger) Williams or Bob Probert, described as the “Muhammad Ali of hockey enforcers.” Are we to believe that Dorsett and his ilk really are anything more than thugs?
Goon’s portrayals of Todd Ewen and Jay Miller are uniquely fascinating, but too much of the book recapitulates old stories. Missing are those of Derek (Boogeyman) Boogaard, Wade Belak, and Rick Rypien, all of whom died during the summer of 2011 – a confluence of tragedy that changed the way we think of enforcers.
More on the psychology of goons and the fascination fans have for them would have been desirable, along with an examination of why these fighters often draw more frenzied applause than gifted scorers, despite the fact that they are far more disposable.