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Hockey season starts this week, so why not sit back and watch the greatest hockey movie of all time.
Paul Newman stars as Reggie Dunlop, an aging player/coach who never had much of a career. He loves the game and the small town of Charlestown, where his team plays in the Federal League, a bush league full of guys just like him. Unfortunately, Reggie's idyllic life is coming to an end.
The Chiefs are floundering in fifth place and have little chance of making the playoffs. The fans are starting to turn against the team and the players are just coasting along. To make things worse, the local steel mill is shutting down, which means the team will lose its entire fan base and, likely, have to disband. Most of the players, especially Reggie, will never be good enough to play elsewhere.
He isn't ready to go out without a fight, so Reggie inspires the team to play harder by starting a rumor that they will be bought by a Florida retirement community. This, in addition to the team's new roughhousing style, gives them a new attitude and lifts morale.
Will the Chiefs find a buyer? Can the team win the championship? Will the team find out that Newman is lying?
When it was released in 1977, Slapshot was criticized for its lewd language and the wild, crazy life of the characters. However, most of what you see on the screen is based the true life experiences of writer Nancy Dowd's brother, a member of the Johnstown Jets. The Jets competed in the Eastern Hockey League and the North American Hockey League - the same NAHL that my hometown hockey team, the Broome Dusters, belonged to during this time.
Dowd had her brother carry a tape recorder into the locker room to help her get a feel for the relationships between the players, the language they would use, and the topics they would discuss. Because of this, many of the events that you see in the movie are based on actual events surrounding the Jets' 1974-75 season.
The original "Hanson Brothers" were Jeff Carlson, Steve Carlson and Guido Tenesi, who played for the Johnstown Jets in 1974-75. Like the scene in the film, they were involved in a brawl in the stands during a game against Utica in 1975 and arrested. Each of the Hanson Brothers went on to minor professional hockey careers, but live on in infamy on home video and DVD.
Other characters are composites of the types of players you would meet in the league. Many of the NAHL players, and even some legends, appeared in the film as extras. For example, the Broome Dusters' star player, Rod Bloomfield, served as Paul Newman's stunt double for any shots requiring expert stick handling. Other than those scenes, Newman did his own skating and stunts. Dowd even pays tribute to the Dusters when one of the announcers states that "the people of Broome are going to be upset."
I have always loved this film for its zaniness and honest portrayal of small town hockey. It's full of hearty laughs, gets a little lost in the middle and in the romantic sub-plots, but still delivers more entertainment than most comedies. Dowd skillfully fills the film with enough inside jokes to appeal to the most hardened hockey fans, but without alienating those who are not. Even if you are not a hockey fan, check it out this weekend.
Directed by George Roy Hill
Paul Newman .. . Reggie Dunlop
Strother Martin .. Joe McGrath
Michael Ontkean .. . Ned Braden
Jennifer Warren .. ... Francine Dunlop
Lindsay Crouse .. Lily Braden (She was also the evil professor on Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Jerry Houser .. Killer Carlson
Jeff Carlson .. . Jeff Hanson
Steve Carlson .. .. Steve Hanson
David Hanson .. .. Jack Hanson
Allan Nicholls .. ... Johnny Upton
Brad Sullivan .. ....Wanchuk
M. Emmet Walsh .... Dickie Dunn
Swoosie Kurtz .. . Helen Upton/Shirley
Guido Tenesi .. .... Billy Charlebois
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