As the finalseconds ticked off the clock and the roar of the fans reached a climax on June6, Brian Burke, general manager of the Anaheim Ducks, stood in the tunnel atthe Honda Center, ready to storm the ice in celebration. Then Burke heardsomething that cracked him up. Standing behind him was the team's videocoordinator, Joe Trotta, who chose that moment to channel Jim Carr, thetoupee-sporting play-by-play announcer from Slap Shot: "The Chiefs have wonthe championship of the Federal League!"
In fact, the Duckshad won the championship of the National Hockey League with a 6-2 rout of theOttawa Senators. But what better way to celebrate it than by paying homage toSlap Shot, the raucous movie about minor league life that, 30 years later,still bonds--or, more aptly, wraps in foil--hockey players, hockey fans, hockeypeople.
Last month JeffCarlson, his brother Steve, and Dave Hanson--the trio who portrayed the Hansonbrothers, Slap Shot's marauding, toy-car-loving hominids--made one of the threedozen appearances they make each year throughout North America. It was aSaturday night, and the celluloid goons were headlining the annual,fund-raising Sportsman Dinner at the Rec Centre in Redvers, Saskatchewan. About250 people sat at circular tables in the reception hall, there to experiencethe Hanson Brothers in full regalia: hockey pants, Charlestown Chiefsblue-and-yellow jerseys, hands encased in foil (for greater punching power) andblack-framed, prison-issue Coke-bottle glasses, copiously taped. (Jeff andSteve Carlson each went by his first name in the movie; Dave Hanson's characterwas Jack Hanson.)
Working the tableslike a bride and groom at a wedding, the trio shook hands, made small talk andinsulted their hosts--in a friendly way. (To a short adult man in a Bruinsjersey, Steve said, "What size is that, children's small?" Later Steveadded, "I saw the Bruins were in first place. Then I realized I was readingthe paper upside down.") At one point Jeff and Steve had their arms aroundthree attractive women, one of whose boyfriends was having camera problems."Take your time," Jeff told him. "Take it apart, we don't care. Goget a new battery. In Regina."
They were asked thetypical questions: Could Paul Newman, who played Reg Dunlop, the Chiefs'raffish, long-in-the-tooth player-coach, skate? (Newman acquitted himself well,they say--though not as well as actor Michael Ontkean, the Charlestown forwardwho had scored more than 100 points over three seasons at New Hampshire.) Whatabout the three actors' pro hockey backgrounds? (They played a combined 34years.) Are they all married? (Yes.) And whose idea was the foil?
The Carlsons andHanson did not, in real life, tape foil over their knuckles--that was a gracenote added by screenwriter Nancy Dowd. What they did do while with the minorleague Johnstown (Pa.) Jets, as Jeff explains, was "rough up" theknuckles on golf gloves by using a file. "[Then] we'd lay them on aradiator, get them hard as rocks, then make sure we fought on the firstshift," he says, before their sweat softened the gloves' serrations.
Steve Carlson, now51, and running a power skating school in Kenosha, Wis., was three years into a14-year pro career when he and the others got tapped to do Slap Shot early in1976. Two years later he played for the WHA's Edmonton Oilers and roomed with arookie who had a big upside--guy named Gretzky. In Steve's sole NHL season,1979-80 with the Los Angeles Kings, he scored nine goals.
Jeff Carlson, 52,spent a decade in the minors. He has a 12-year-old son and is an electrician inMuskegon, Mich.
Dave Hanson alsotoiled 10 years in the minors--ascending to the NHL to play 11 games for theRed Wings and 22 for the Minnesota North Stars--and racked up more than 2,000penalty minutes. A month after the movie wrapped, he married Sue Kaschalk, acoal miner's daughter, from Nanty Glo, Pa. Dave, 53, manages a sports facilityat Robert Morris University near Pittsburgh. They have two daughters and a son,Christian, who's a promising 6' 4", 220-pound center at Notre Dame. Hedoesn't fight much.
When the"brothers" reveal they are all are from Minnesota, the Redvers fansseem surprised--and vaguely disappointed--that they aren't Canadian. They are,however, Slap Shot verité: Asked how much of the movie actually happened, Jeffreplies, "I never acted at all."
Nancy Dowd, aSmith-educated French major from Framingham, Mass., was a fledgling writerliving in L.A. when she¬†got a call late one night in 1974 from her littlebrother, Ned, a Bowdoin grad who was playing for those Johnstown Jets of thenow-defunct NAHL. Ned was drunk, and he had bad news: The Jets were on theblock. When she asked who owned the club, he said he had no idea.
"It wasincredible to me that my brother did not know who owned his team," shewrote recently in a letter posted by madbrothers.com, a website devoted to SlapShot (not to be confused with hansonbrothers.net, which the Hansons prefer)."If you didn't know who owned you, what did you know? . . .¬†I bought acheap ticket 'back East' . . .¬†back to a rusting mill town, back tolowered expectations, back to narrowness and shuttered minds. And I wrote SlapShot."
For all itsscabrous humor Slap Shot was at times grim. It ends with a victory parade downthe main street of a dying steel town; a parade attended by small children whowill grow up and leave if they want to find work; a parade that passes beneatha theater whose marquee advertises the movie Deep Throat.
Critics didn'tquite know what to make of Slap Shot when it was released in February 1977. TheWall Street Journal's Joy Gould Boyum seemed at once entertained and repulsedby a movie so "foul-mouthed and unabashedly vulgar" on one hand and so"vigorous and funny" on the other. And while the sight of Ontkean'scharacter disrobing to his protective cup as a high school band played StripTease might have made audiences laugh so hard they lost their water, itdispleased Time's Richard Schickel, who regretted that "in the denouement[Ontkean] is forced to go for a broader, cheaper kind of comicresponse."
Three decades afterSchickel's lament, Slap Shot stands as one of the best sports movies ever; SIrated it No. 5 in 2003. It has aged more gracefully than bigger-grossingpictures of its vintage. The director was the late George Roy Hill, aMinnesotan--and a close friend of Newman's. "He sent me the script on aWednesday; I called him back Friday," recalls Newman, now 82. "It'sfoul, but it's got it," he told the director. "Let's do it."
Of working withCarlson, Carlson and Hanson, Newman says, "They were very professional, andthey were completely crazy. We drank a lot of beer."
Slap Shot yieldsfresh delights with each screening. That's no surprise, considering the movie'ssupporting cast. Strother Martin played the Chiefs' skinflint owner, JoeMcGrath, whose between-periods tantrum ("We're loooosin'! They're buryin'us alive! . . . All my years of publicity, all the fashion shows, theradiothons, for nothin'!") required a dozen takes. Not because Martin keptscrewing it up but because no one could keep a straight face during hisrant.
There's also AndrewDuncan, whose exquisitely unctuous sportscaster, Jim Carr, declaims withincreasing alarm as Ontkean disrobes, "He's not fighting! No, he's--NedBraden is starting to take off articles of his uniform!"
It is the raresports movie that resonates with the athletes whose lives it would presume toreproduce. Slap Shot's passages have entered the lexicon of hockey players,many of whom recite its lines with the fluency, and the passion, of a preacherspouting Scripture. Harvard coach Ted Donato, 38, played for the Crimson, thenspent 13 years in the NHL. His generation so revered Slap Shot, he says, that"it wasn't uncommon in college, and then in the NHL, for guys to quote themovie five, six times a day. One guy would start a line--'You guys theHansons?'--and five or six guys would finish it: 'F------ machine took myquarter!' "
Some players onDonato's team last season were born 12 years after Slap Shot came out. Yet eventhey parrot dialogue. "I'll ask the guys before a game how they'redoing," Donato marvels, "and they'll say, 'Puttin' on the foil, Coach.'"
The outrageousfight scenes in Slap Shot were not exactly a reach for the men who played theHanson brothers. Early in the movie the Hansons jump the Peterboro Patriots inwarmups. (During the national anthem, the hyperventilating referee warns Steve,"I got my eye on the three of you guys. I run a clean game here"; Steveresponds, "I'm listenin' to the f------ song!") That's based on eventsin a mid-1970s playoff series between the Johnstown Jets--on which Steve, Daveand Jeff all played, as teammates of Dowd's brother--and the Buffalo Norsemen.The Jets had a black player; in one game of the series, a Norsemen fan held asign saying that blacks should be playing basketball.
"That pissed usoff," Steve recalls. In Johnstown for the next game the Jets started apregame brawl from which, according to Jets lore, a Buffalo player tried toescape by clambering into the stands, only to be cast back onto the ice by thefans. The Norsemen then refused to come out to start the game andforfeited.
In another scenefrom the movie Jeff scores, then is hit in the face by a set of keys. Into thestands go the Hansons. Jeff loses his glasses and punches out the wrong fan.After the game the Hansons are arrested and jailed.
That tracks withthe Jets' evening in Utica, N.Y., against the Mohawk Valley Comets, when Jefftook a cup of ice to the face. Into the stands went he, Steve and their brotherJack Carlson, who was to have played Jack Hanson in the movie but was called upto the WHA shortly before shooting began. All three were arrested. Dave Hanson,who also went over the glass but escaped arrest, helped gather the Jets' mealmoney for the Carlsons' bail.
In the25th-anniversary edition of the Slap Shot DVD, Jeff recalled a Jets' game inwhich a giant goon named Gilles (Bad News) Bilodeau tossed him around like arag doll. Seizing the rinkside announcer's microphone, Jeff commenced clubbingBilodeau on the head with it. "Over the P.A. system," recalls Steve,"all you could hear was this Poom! Poom! Poom!" "I invented rapmusic," says Jeff, who was sent an invoice for the ruined microphone.
In redvers the vibewas all fun. While the glasses and the foil are props, Jeff and Steve and Daveseem authentic. "At the end of these things, people always come up to usand say thank you," says Jeff, "and I say, 'No, thank you.' "
Echoing thatappreciation is Dowd, who won an Oscar for cowriting the 1978 movie ComingHome. After buying a loft in Montreal two years ago, she learned about thenearby Laval Chiefs, who modeled themselves, in both uniform and brawlingstyle, after Charlestown. In that online letter she wrote to Slap Shot Nation,"You wore the Halloween costumes, hosted the Slap Shot parties, memorizedthe lines, and laughed and laughed. That is the real measure of a motionpicture, not the opening weekend grosses. When an object is embraced by apopular culture, it takes on a life of its own."
The on-ice mayhem of (from left) Jeff Carlson, Steve Carlson and Dave Hansoninspired the fight scenes.
With their aluminum knuckles and off-color jokes, the Hansons are heroes tofans born well after Slap Shot's debut.