In an early scene in Odd Man Rush, a player scores the first goal of the game then skates over to the boards to collect his reward – a paper bag full of groceries for the week.
“That’s a real thing,” says Dylan Playfair. “That’s where the comedy comes in: why do these guys continue to chase these dreams at 30 in these far-off leagues? There’s a reason why they’re there.”
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Based on the memoir by Bill Keenan and directed by Doug Dearth, the film focuses on the so-so hockey career of Bobby (The Society’s Jack Mulhern), who racks up more injuries than goals playing stateside and finds himself bouncing around in the European minor leagues, where he is ignominiously traded to a Swedish team for a washer/dryer combo.
He falls for Elin (Elektra Kilbey) and is forced to choose between his dream on the ice and the cold hard fact that not everyone makes it to the NHL.
“Our goal was not to make another Slap Shot, but to show the reality for the guys who are three leagues away from that,” says Playfair.
The Vancouver actor knows life on the ice well: dad Jim played for the Edmonton Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks and is now an associate coach for the Oilers. Brothers Austyn and Jackson also played minor league hockey. And uncle Larry Playfair racked up 668 games in the NHL with the Buffalo Sabres and LA Kings.
“I was able to collaborate with Doug and Bill. … I think that was one of the things that we really vibed on, my history and my knowledge of the things that happen on the ice.”
Playfair plays Dean, a laid-back player with a muse in every city. In his own career he admits to being among the “top two or three penalty-earners” on his team. “I was the light-hearted guy in the room, I took a lot of pride in making the guys laugh. So the chance to show that through Dean was fun.”
It’s a love story, a coming-of-age story, but Odd Man Rush is first and foremost a treat for hockey lovers, “a real Easter-egg film for true fans,” says Playfair. There’s an appearance by a Gretzky and a Lemieux, a real referee, and the current owner of an NHL team. And a cameo from Jim Playfair, of course: “It was the first opportunity I’ve had to act with my dad, very cool!”
In the film, Bobby and Dean have the inevitable “life after hockey” conversation in the car after a game. For Playfair, it was when he was 19. He had been playing junior hockey, and after a goal slump the previous year he spent the summer working hard on skating and puck handling, despite a concussion in the off season. “I came back to camp and could see the desire in the kids below me, and I had to be honest with myself,” he says. His dad offered advice: “whatever you do, wherever you play, don’t resent the game,” a game that had introduced the family to great people, to multiple opportunities and that had paid for his brothers’ schooling. Playfair hung up his skates and headed to Vancouver to dive into acting.
He didn’t just get discovered, he put in the work, working as a production assistant and in catering while taking classes at Vancouver Acting School at night. “I was determined that whoever gave me my first chance, I could show them a level of commitment.”
There are a lot of parallels between hockey and acting, he says. “You can do something special but it’s in the context of a team doing something special.” None of it works unless the director gets it right, the editor makes it look good. Playfair is quick to draw comparisons between what makes a good hockey team and a good show or a good movie, and “I think that understanding that has been a huge part of my success.”
Playfair won a Leo for his portrayal of Marty Howe, Gordie’s eldest son, in Mr Hockey: The Gordie Howe Story. He was featured on the YTV show Some Assembly Required and played Gil, the dim-witted pirate, in Disney’s Descendants 2 and 3.
But it’s his role as hockey dude Reilly in Letterkenny that’s getting him a lot of attention. “It’s wild!” he says of the reaction from fans worldwide. The show began as a YouTube web series before being picked up by Crave in Canada and Hulu in the U.S. “Letterkenny has been such a ride… we pinch ourselves all the time. We don’t want to be too cocky but we feel a bit like the Oilers in the ’80s: that same, incredible unit.”
Playfair has “done the Los Angeles thing” but now lives in Vancouver with his fiancé and with his brothers nearby. But he says those early days travelling for his dad’s job and for hockey have stuck with him: “As much as this feels like home I’m never rid of that wanderlust.”
But wherever he goes, his trademark long hair will go with him. Maybe he should have it insured, like Troy Polamalu’s hair or JLo’s butt? “Ha, maybe!” he laughs. “Whenever I’m working on Letterkenny I definitely have to keep it. Right after the tour I had a big long break and I cut it pretty short. It was weird, man. I don’t think I’ll be doing that again.”
Odd Man Rush arrives on digital and on-demand Sept. 1