Before ‘Point Break,’ Keanu Reeves Debuted Opposite Patrick Swayze in This Sports Drama

While hardly the greatest sports movie ever made, Youngblood (1986) is beloved in hockey circles for its overly dramatic depiction of Canadian junior hockey. It’s a classic tale of good vs. evil, and talent vs. brutality. The film stars Rob Lowe as Dean Youngblood, a sublimely skilled scorer for the Hamilton Mustangs who gets bullied into embracing hockey’s dark side, not truly winning until he beats up the opposing team’s goon. Patrick Swayze co-stars as Derek Sutton, the Hamilton team captain who shows Youngblood how to navigate hockey culture. The Mustang squad features some other notable names in bit parts, including future NHLers Peter Zezel and Steve Thomas. However, the true superstar was in the net. Youngblood marked the feature film debut of Keanu Reeves as Heaver, the Mustangs’ goaltender, and it was a part he seemed destined to play. Reeves would later reunite with Swayze for the Kathryn Bigelow crime drama, Point Break.

What Is ‘Youngblood’ About?
Of course, Youngblood is Lowe’s movie, and he perfectly embodies the “pretty boy” scorer who is uncomfortable with hockey’s rough stuff. When the story opens, 17-year-old Dean Youngblood is toiling on his family farm in rural New York, desperate to leave home and chase NHL glory. His older brother Kelly (Jim Youngs), whose own professional hockey aspirations were dashed due to a devastating on-ice injury, convinces their reluctant father to approve. With his family’s support, young Dean ventures off to conquer Canada. He tries out for the Hamilton Mustangs and dazzles with his speed and skill, but his lack of physicality makes it surprising when the hard-nosed head coach Murray Chadwick (Ed Lauter) picks him for the team over the punishing Carl Racki (George J. Finn), a bearded Neanderthal on skates who apparently maintained junior eligibility through some sort of prison work-release program.

Rob Lowe as Dean Youngblood sitting next to Patrick Swayze as Derek Sutton in 'Youngblood'

The excitement of making the team quickly wanes when the aloof, cocky Youngblood struggles to adapt to his new surroundings. He’s a delicate flower stuck in cold Canadian sod. Thankfully, Sutton becomes a trusted mentor for the vulnerable winger, protecting him on and off the ice. Along the way, Youngblood falls in love with Coach Chadwick’s daughter, Jessie (Cynthia Gibb), which only further complicates his standing on the team. Just when things seem to be coming together, the evil Racki returns, now a member of the Thunder Bay Bombers, and hospitalizes Sutton with a vicious cheap shot. Youngblood is horrified and returns home, unable to deal with hockey’s violence. But his brother and father won’t let him quit. They teach him how to fight and send him back to Hamilton with renewed confidence and dynamite in his fists. When the Mustangs face the rival Bombers in the championship game, Youngblood scores a hat trick, including the game-winner on a penalty shot with just three seconds left in regulation. He caps it off by dropping his gloves and pummeling Racki, bringing some sweet vigilante justice to the ice.

In the end, Youngblood wins the championship and the girl, earning the respect of his teammates and opponents alike. Lost in this blind Youngblood idolatry is that a certain Hamilton goaltender standing on his head between the pipes, making one clutch save after another to keep the Mustangs in it. Just remember, there is no Youngblood triumph without Keanu Reeves.

Keanu Reeves’ Relationship With Hockey Extends Beyond the Screen

Rob Lowe as Dean Youngblood and Keanu Reeves as Heaver sitting together on a hockey bench in 'Youngblood'

A proud Canadian citizen, Keanu was actually born in Beirut, Lebanon. His father, a Hawaiian native, was vacationing there when he met Keanu’s mother, Patricia Taylor, an English-born showgirl. The marriage wouldn’t last, and Patricia moved a six-year-old Keanu and his younger sister to New York, where she married director Paul Aaron in 1970. The couple decided to raise their family in Toronto, which is how Keanu became a Canadian and a lifelong hockey fan. After the second marriage ended, the family stayed on in the Toronto area. Though Keanu often found himself changing homes and schools amidst constant upheaval, he always had hockey.

Reeves played goalie on numerous teams growing up and earned team MVP honors during his one year at De La Salle College, a private preparatory school in Toronto. He briefly considered turning pro before electing to pursue his acting dream instead. One of his former high school coaches even stated that Keanu used to recite Shakespeare while tending goal. So when it came time to audition for Youngblood, Keanu’s hockey experience made him a natural choice. In an interview with The Hockey News, former NHL sniper Steve Thomas praised his famous co-star’s puck-stopping abilities, saying, “Keanu was a heck of a goalie. He knew what he was doing out there.”

‘Youngblood’ Led to Bigger and Better Roles for Keanu Reeves

Rob Lowe as Dean Youngblood and Cynthia Gibb as Jessie Chadwick looking at each other in 'Youngblood'

Reeves’ goaltending was probably a bit better than his acting in Youngblood. His performance is best remembered for his character’s terrible French-Canadian accent. Despite this, Reeves was able to balance his inexperience with an earnest screen presence that would remain present in his later movie roles. Later the same year, Keanu had a starring role in the disturbing teen drama River’s Edge (1986), which involved a group of friends dealing with one of their own being a murderer. He then had a key supporting role in the Oscar-nominated Dangerous Liaisons (1988), sharing the screen with such notable names as Michelle Pfeiffer, Glenn Close, and John Malkovich. One year later, he officially broke through as the dim-witted Ted in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989).

Five years after Youngblood, Keanu and his fellow Hamilton Mustang Patrick Swayze swapped their ice skates for surfboards and made the iconic Point Break (1991), an action-packed thrill ride about an FBI agent infiltrating a gang of surfing bank robbers. It’s a shame that Swayze and Reeves had little screen time together in Youngblood as their chemistry was essential to Point Break’s success. The dynamic performances also earned notable acclaim. After Point Break, Reeves would go on to appear in blockbusters such as Speed (1994), The Matrix (1999), and John Wick (2014), which would cement him as one of Hollywood’s brightest stars. And it all started with some goalie equipment and a dream.

Youngblood is currently available to rent or buy on Prime Video in the U.S.

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