Winnipeg born Terry Sawchuk is one of the legends of the NHL, an Original Six era player and leader in wins by goaltenders. A new film, “Goalie,” starring Mark O’Brien, gives a blow-by-blow account of his rise to fame, literally. It begins with an autopsy detailing each and every war wound and how he earned them.
It’s a striking way to kick off the story of a man who was scarred physically and mentally from his many years in the net. We first meet him as a shy child with a beloved brother and abusive father. His brother’s death at seventeen carved a hole in his heart that was never filled, despite being married to Pat (Georgina Reilly) and fathering seven children. Booze (“I’m not drunk. I just forgot to eat,” he slurs.), hockey and the reflected glow of being in the NHL kept him going but the lifestyle—he earned 400 stitches on his face alone—took a toll and depression and erratic behaviour became his norm.
Sawchuk saw his share of triumph and trouble but “Goalie” is not a hagiography of one of the legends of the game. Instead it is more an elegy for a man who spent much of his career earning $25 a game, occasionally playing with broken bones for fear of being traded.
O’Brien does a nice job of portraying Sawchuk’s duality. From a young man full of hope and promise to the battle-scarred veteran of the ice who let the pressure of performance weigh him down, O’Brien subtly portrays his descent.
Not so subtle is Kevin Pollak as Detroit general manager Jack Adams. He’s a sports manager straight out of Central Casting, given to saying things like, “We both know the game is played between those blood red poles!”
His flowery language aside, director Adriana Maggs manages to insert some real poetry into the film. Interspersed into the action are snippets of “Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems” by the director’s father Randall Maggs. His words add to the elegiac feel of the film and are a nice antidote when the film falls into the occasional “ice is thicker than blood” cliché.
Like all good sports movies “Goalie” isn’t about scores or stats, it’s about what drives the players to push themselves, to be warriors or be worthless.