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'Goon's' toughest fight: to unseat 'Slap Shot' as hockey players' favourite film

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TORONTO - The hockey flick "Goon" may bring the brawls of a low-level hockey enforcer to vivid life, but the battle for the hearts of its audience members may be its most bruising fight of all.

The scrappy newcomer vying for a place in the pantheon of all-time great hockey films finds itself facing off against an older competitor that's entertained generations of aspiring players.

Present-day stars of the National Hockey League are almost unanimous — there's still nothing out there as good as "Slap Shot."

"It doesn't get much better than that," Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price said of the 1977 movie. "It was filmed in a different era, obviously, but it hit home pretty good with the way minor league system works and how it was back in the day. . . . There are a few classic quotes from that movie that any good old boy from Canada will know what you're talking about."

"Slap Shot" — starring Paul Newman as a cynical small-town coach — bears some similarities with "Goon," which opens nationwide on Friday.

The earlier movie tells the story of a struggling team re-energized by a trio of thuggish brothers whose dirty game play engage fans and leads to a championship.

"Goon" also explores life in hockey's minor leagues, this time from the perspective of an affable Everyman who is recruited for his fighting skills rather than on-ice talent.

Price is not alone in his fondness for "Slap Shot," which has gone on to attain status as a cult favourite in the three decades since its release.

"Yeah, 'Slap Shot' hands down," Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn said when asked about his favourite hockey movie. "I mean, you can watch that over and over and it never gets old. It keeps getting funnier as you go and you watch when you get older."

Winnipeg Jets forward Chris Thorburn, Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf and Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban all ranked the movie among their personal favourites.

"Slap Shot" also topped the list for Columbus Blue Jackets left-winger R.J. Umberger, who named another popular title as a close second.

"I liked 'Youngblood' a lot, too," he said, referring to a 1986 movie starring Rob Lowe. "A young kid growing up, wanting to be an offensive player, 'Youngblood' was always a favourite."

The 2004 movie "Miracle," starring Kurt Russell and chronicling the unlikely triumph of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, rated high with several players. Blue Jackets defenceman Jared Boll forward ranked it alongside "Slap Shot," while Canadiens defenceman Chris Campoli views it as a classic depiction of a great moment in the sport's history.

"'Miracle' is a great story because it's a true story," he said. "Being Canadian I have a level respect for what that team achieved. It's special just to see it and that's something that will never be forgotten in hockey."

While the players displayed fondness for classic movies featuring a-list stars, many have kept a special place in their hearts for something a little lighter.

""When I was a kid, I loved to watch hockey movies like 'Mighty Ducks,'" said Leafs netminder Jonas Gustavsson. "I was a kid when that movie came out and it was just a movie that was nice to watch in the summers when you were looking forward to playing hockey again. It was a Disney movie, they're pretty good at selling those to the kids."

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