Throughout the season, several fans will provide insight into their experiences in and love for the game of hockey and the Checkers. This is the fourth installment, this time from Checkers staffer Mike Lappan.
Hockey fan since:
Favorite NHL team(s):
Red Wings and Kings
Favorite NHL players:
Steve Yzerman, Dave Taylor, Wayne Gretzky
First NHL game:
Leafs/Blackhawks at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1988
I grew up in Northern Ontario, where hockey is a way of life. At one point in the mid-1990s, our town of roughly 3,000 people had three active NHL players from three different families.
My school bus would drop me off at the outdoor rink and I would play until 9 p.m. (when they turned off the lights) then head home to watch the highlights from that night’s NHL games. My dad brought my dinner down to the rink for me and homework was done in the morning before school – limited hours of light at the rink meant a different set of life priorities for me.
Growing up in this town, you played hockey, watched hockey and, when you were at school or with friends, talked about hockey. It was only a matter of time before you were introduced to the greatest hockey movie of all time: "Slap Shot."
I was 14 and at a friend’s birthday party sleepover when I first watched it in its entirety. We ate pizza, played a bracket-style tournament in NHL 95 on Super Nintendo (I lost in the finals to Dave, who was like that kid in the movie The Wizard – no one could beat Dave) and then watched the movie that we would go on to quote daily for at least the next five years. We all competed on the same hockey team and most of us ended up playing together through high school, so long bus rides to road games always (and I mean always) included "Slap Shot."
The Hanson Brothers and the rest of the Charlestown Chiefs were our heroes. We never really emulated their play on the ice, but there was always an increased level of effort in a game that immediately followed a bus ride with the movie playing. We knew it was a made up story, but it felt real.
What most people don’t know, however, is that this outrageous and fictional comedy was actually very close to the reality of 1970s minor-league hockey. In fact, it was originally planned to be a documentary.
Here are a few little-known facts:
- The Hanson Brothers characters were inspired by and played by real-life brothers. Steve, Jeff and Jack Carlson all played together on the 1974-75 Johnstown Jets in the now-defunct North American Hockey League. Jack was called up by the Edmonton Oilers shortly before filming began and was replaced by Dave Hanson in the movie.
- The movie was created by Nancy Dowd, the brother of minor-leaguer Ned Dowd, who played with the Carlsons and Dave Hanson on the ‘74-75 Jets. Nancy spent a month traveling with the team and had Ned set up a tape recorder in the locker room for research.
- The film is directed by George Roy Hill and stars Paul Newman and Strother Martin. Can you name another movie which was directed by Hill and starred Newman and Martin? The multiple-Oscar-winning Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, of course. Another one of my personal favorites.
- Other notable actors who auditioned for parts included Al Pacino, Nick Nolte, John Travolta, Tommy Lee Jones, Harrison Ford and Kurt Russell, who later starred in another pretty well-known hockey movie, Miracle. Most of these actors were unsuccessful in securing a part because they couldn’t learn to skate in time for the filming.
- Michael Ontkean, who plays the Chiefs’ leading scorer Ned Braden in the movie, was a very talented hockey player and was offered a contract by the New York Rangers but turned it down to pursue a film career.
- Many of the Chiefs’ opponents in the film were either active or recently-retired minor-league hockey players and many characters were inspired by real life. Two notable examples are the characters Ogie Ogelthorpe and Clarence “Screaming Buffalo” Swamptown. Ogelthorpe was based on Bill “Goldie” Goldthorpe, a notorious minor-league enforcer, while Swamptown was played by “Indian” Joe Nolan. According to the Hanson Brothers, Nolan was banned for life in the mid-1950s for an unknown incident. He was also the first player in the history of pro hockey to rack up 300 penalty minutes in a single season.
- Paul Newman’s character Reg Dunlop is said to be based on hockey legend John Brophy, who played 18 seasons in the Eastern Hockey League, including four in Charlotte with the Clippers from 1956-60. Brophy’s playing and coaching career spanned six decades.
- Anaheim Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau also appears in the film, while the ’74-75 Jets’ bus driver at the time of filming was used in the movie as the Chiefs’ driver.
- Jeff and Steve Carlson actually wore glasses like they did in the film and though they deny “putting on the foil,” saying it was Nancy Dowd’s idea, they admit to having worn leather golf gloves dipped in water and then dried so they’d be “hard as rocks.” The brothers also admit to jumping into the stands and fighting, like in the movie, and note that they once won a playoff series by forfeit because of a pre-game brawl, similar to the final scene of Slap Shot.
- The referees depicted in the movie wore red-striped jerseys, instead of black, as was done in the now-defunct World Hockey Association in the 70s.
- The home games for the fictional Charlestown Chiefs were all filmed at the War Memorial Arena in Johnstown, Pa. I watched a game at the arena on an ECHL assignment in 2007 and not much has changed. Also, many of the non-hockey scenes were filmed in Johnstown.
Slap Shot has stood the test of time and I still hear it quoted in locker rooms and around the game, 36 years after its release. Though many of the famous one-liners are often recited, every now and again I am surprised and happy to hear more a more subtle reference like “Dickie Dunn” – used to refer to misquotes or rumors in the paper or online. Dunn, as you may remember, was the reporter in the story who broke the news about the Chiefs moving to Florida and whose word was taken as gospel by most of the players and fans.
While the above-mentioned facts are taken from internet research and others from DVD commentary, there’s sure to be someone out there who challenges a detail or two. And to them, all I can say is: “Dickie Dunn wrote this. It’s gotta be true.”
I hope everyone reading this joins us on March 16, when we watch the classic movie with the Hanson Brothers themselves.
David Hoffman is the official realtor of the Checkers and can be seen in his home-ice advantage seats at almost every game. For more information on how David can help you, visit www.liveinnorthcarolina.com.