While all sports have their passionate diehards, Jack Mulhern knows there’s something special about hockey fans.
Whether their home team has just won the Stanley Cup or if they’ve gone over 50 years without winning it all (sigh, sorry Leafs), hockey seems to connect deeply with the soul of its fans in ways that other sports don’t. As the star of the new hockey rom-com Odd Man Rush, Mulhern believes that what continues to draw people to the sport is the combative nature of the game and the offbeat personalities of the players.
“It’s gladiatorial [and] a very physical sport,” he considers. “We’re very clannish kind of a species. We like to duke it out with the neighbors, you know? I think there’s that. I think also [people are passionate about the sport] because, from my limited experience, hockey players are nuts, but in the best way. They’re like a bunch of loons, but they’re like really good guys. I guess it’s like this a lot of the time with a lot of really serious athletes. They’re really good, wholesome people that are just insane because they’ve pursued it so far that they’re just kind of caught in all these rituals and all these quirks of being. They’re fun, little character studies being around, specifically, hockey players.”
Odd Man Rush, tells the story of Bobby Sanders (Mulhern), a young hockey player who dreams of playing in the NHL. When his young career ends with more surgeries than goals, Bobby finds himself playing in the European minor leagues. Moving from team to team (and traded for a washer/dryer combo), Bobby lives his life in a constant state of change. Things begin to turn around for him when he finally lands in Sweden and meets Elin (Elektra Jansson Kilby), a check out girl who helps him to confront the reality of his childhood dreams.
Though he had some experience in the world of hockey in his youth, star Jack Mulhern found the most relatable aspect of his character was his journey slugging it out in the trenches in order to achieve success.
“I played in middle school and followed the Rangers a little bit because I’m from New York, but I’m not [a] crazy [fan],” he explains. “Luckily again, there was a lot of people that are the real deal. Dylan [Playfair] is the real deal. Bill [Keenan], obviously, and a bunch of the other guys. I could lean on them whenever I had any questions. Other than that though, there were a lot of parallels in terms of being sort of a young, ambitious guy jumping around in the minor leagues, chasing this dream to being a young actor, jumping around from gig to gig to gig. So, I found a lot of parallels there, you know?”
When Odd Man Rush provided the opportunity to revisit the hockey world, Mulhern became excited to hit the ice once again. Training with co-star Dylan Playfair, he took every opportunity that he had in the brief preparation time to reacquaint himself with the sport.
“I think I had maybe two weeks after I jumped off of this to go back,” he recalls. “Luckily, I had some equipment downstairs. Weirdly enough (or serendipitously), the previous year I was in a pilot that was close to going and one of the themes is that the character played hockey. So, I started going out to Chelsea Piers and playing pick up again, breaking in some skates and stuff like that. So, weirdly, I started that process a year before and, when this happened, I kind of was ready to go. I showed up a week in advance [to get] as much time as I could get together and Dylan was out there. He stayed with me every single day leading up to the beginning of production. So, shout out to Dylan. He’s the best.”
While Odd Man Rush may be a romantic comedy, it still takes its hockey responsibilities seriously. Giving the film an added sense of pedigree, the cast features numerous former players/coaches, including members of hockey’s royal families in Trevor Gretzky and Alexa Lemieux. As a relative newcomer to the hockey scene, Mulhern feels that the opportunity to work with people who have lived in that world reminded him what a rabid fan-base the sport carries with it.
“Trevor [Gretzky]’s a great guy. I really like him,” Mulhern begins. “I think what I took away was the reactions to those kids of those legends is how much [people care], which makes perfect sense because it’s Gretzky and Lemieux that we’re talking about. People really care. There’s a cult of personality around it. Same thing with Dylan. Dylan’s on this great show called Letterkenny. We’d be practicing a lot or shooting in a lot of rinks and, off the rink, crowds would form slowly of these other guys practicing and rotating in and out on different rinks in whatever facility we were at. So, every single time we’d get out, we’d be mobbed by people. So, hockey fans are the real deal. You don’t want to piss off hockey fans.”
Whether in sports or the arts, films that showcase dreamers who yearn to make it in the big leagues often highlight the joy of ultimately reaching their goal. However, while Odd Man Rush does mimic some of these tropes, it also looks at the fragility of those dreams in the face of injuries and the simple realities of playing professional hockey.
“The downside is ostracizing the people in your life by becoming a kind of a shell of a person because you’re so consumed with satisfying this sort of abstract ambition that you have for yourself,” Mulhern reflects. “It puts a lot of strains on the relationships, not just because of travel and because you’re busy all the time, but because you’re so consumed that you kind of can’t see the forest for the trees. It’s the same thing in acting, I’m sure (or at least the connection that I made into the character). You sort of forsake life in the pursuit of life. That’s the ambition trap, and it’s something I’ve been trying to navigate for these past four or five years that I’ve been doing this for a living too. I haven’t quite gotten it dialed yet but I’m getting better though.”
“Ultimately, none of it matters if you don’t have peace of mind [or] if you’re a miserable person,” he continues. “You could be the most successful person in the world and it’s all for not. When you will have paid such a hefty price to get somewhere, and all this stuff that really matters is gone by the time you get there. [That’s] not to say that everybody that ever satisfies the full extent of their dream and makes it to the NHL is a hollow shell of a person. But I find that those people that last, are [the ones that mind] their P’s and their Q’s. They know what matters, and they’re able to juggle things in a mature way.”
With the film’s emphasis on dreaming big, Odd Man Rush features a brief but important subplot where a very young Bobby writes a letter to his future adult self. Asked what he would say if he were given the chance to speak to his childhood self, Mulhern believes that he would likely encourage young Jack to make the most of every moment early in order to pursue his ultimate goal.
“Everything that I did or was involved in kind of got me to where I’m at now and it’s necessary,” he says. “I think I do regret [that] I didn’t want to be much of anything until I was in my twenties and I was forced to, because I was so down. If I could go back, things like education and all of these things are really just a consolidated group of resources. So, what I would advise myself or to any young person going through it is that, as much as you might think it sucks, try to be about the business now of finding those things that you’re really passionate about. Pursue it while you have the youth and the time to really kind of make the most out of everything around you and go to school for it too. That would be my advice.”
Since his experience on Odd Man Rush gave Mulhern the chance to rekindle an interest in a sport that has eluded him since his childhood, it’s fun for him to envision who he would like to play alongside. Were he given the opportunity to pick a fictional three-man roster of his own, Mulhern offered some surprising and unique choices.
“I liked [Brian] Gionta on the [New Jersey] Devil’s, back when I was playing. I liked him because I was short and he was smaller, really scrappy and a good player. So Gionta and [Henrik] Lunquist ‘tending. And Gretzky. Shout out to Trevor’s dad.”
For complete audio of our conversation with Jack Mulhern, click here.
Odd Man Rush is available on VOD now.