Goon on 'Goon'

Flyers enforcer Zac Rinaldo co-reviews the movie 'Goon' with Daily News Movie Critic Gary Thompson

I thought the hockey comedy "Goon" (opening in theaters this weekend) was funny, but I lack certain street cred.

The kind that comes with having your brawls with Erik Gudbranson and Brandon Dubinsky posted on hockeyfights.com, or your bout with Gregory Campbell honored as Hockey Fight of the Day on fighters.com, as recently as March 18.

Such are the credentials of Flyer tough guy Zac Rinaldo, who this season has compiled two goals, six assists and 202 penalty minutes.

I sat down with Rinaldo to get his perspective. "I only watch movies if I can relate to them, or if they're based on true stories," he said.

He had a double hit, then, with "Goon," the story of a minor league hockey enforcer (Seann William Scott), loosely based on the autobiography of former minor leaguer Doug Smith.

Rinaldo and 20 of his Flyers teammates saw the movie at a premiere in Calgary, Alberta, two months ago, and most found it hilariously true to life.

"Everyone was howling. Some of the stuff was just dead on," said Rinaldo, just 21, whose memory of the minors is fresher than most.

I mentioned to Ontario native Rinaldo that "Goon" is an all-Canadian production made by hockey nuts (Canadiens fans, for the most part).

"Obviously," he said, "they did their research."

It shows up, Rinaldo noted, in some of the, um, pungent details.

Such as: "Bus rides. Those bus rides, man, they are long, and grueling, and that bathroom they got in the back there, the smell - it's much worse than even how they made it appear in the movie."

Also authentic: Scott's team has its logo on the locker room carpet, just like most hockey teams, including the Flyers, and no one is permitted to step on it.

Off the ice, it's saloon tables, littered with glasses and pitchers.

"It's all beer in the minors. Cheap beer," Rinaldo said.

I asked him if there are other resonant details, particular to his role as enforcer.

"Being tapped on the shoulder when you're on the bench, the coach saying, 'Go out and talk to that guy,' " he said.

A euphemism for, if need be, fighting an opposing player who's harmed one of your "skill" players - usually scorers.

"At least let him know that you are aware of what he's doing. If he's taking liberties with our skill guys, you have to go out there and give him a talking-to."

Rinaldo said "Goon" captures the way enforcers honor hockey code by mostly fighting each other - a ritual often defined, strangely, by mutual respect.

We both loved the scene that finds Scott seeking advice from an established enforcer (Liev Schreiber), who cordially offers it, on the eve of what they both know is a bloody fistfight.

"Guys I fought, older guys, that have that reputation based on years in the league, you have to show some respect to them. That's their job, and you're in that same job," he said.

He noticed a cameo in the movie by former NHL "goon" Georges Laraque, famous for being miked during a hockey game asking his counterpart if he wanted to "go," then saying, sincerely, "good luck." Rinaldo noted that the moment is replayed in "Goon," verbatim.

Still, Rinaldo didn't love everything about "Goon."

"They make seem uneducated. That's not the case.

"We're not dull-witted off the ice. That, I didn't like," he said.

Enforcers, he said, come in many varieties. Rinaldo is a speedy winger who didn't throw a punch in a game until a few years ago.

"When I started fighting it was my first year in the , and I was 17 and I had to fight because of hits I would deliver. For my own protection, I had to back it up, I had to survive, and I got noticed for my fighting ability, for my hits. I kind of ran with that throughout my minor career," he said.

"Now that I'm established, hopefully I can contribute and get better as a hockey player, not just a one-dimensional tough guy."

Rinaldo does have a fairly narrow focus when it comes to movies. He likes movies about Italian culture, and tough guys. His favorites, "Goodfellas," and especially "A Bronx Tale."

I ask Rinaldo the question that is famously put to Sonny in the latter movie.

Is it better to be loved, or feared?

"That's a question I've been trying to figure out. I think on the ice, it's better to be feared. Off the ice, I think it's better to be loved."

Who says enforcers can't be smart?