First off, if you haven’t seen Slap Shot, step away, flip on Netflix and stream it. The 1977 film not only the greatest hockey movie ever made, but perhaps the funniest sports comedy, as well. Screenwriter Nancy Dowd – yes, Slap Shot was written by a woman, a fact that still shocks a lot of people, considering it’s a crass, shameless and often misogynistic portrait of male-bonding – penned the story after spending time with her brother, Ned Dowd, a minor league hockey player for the Johnstown Jets. During a phone call with his sister, Ned complained how the team was about to be sold. She moved to be close to him and her experience led to Slap Shot.
Slap Shot follows the fictional Charlestown Chief, a god-awful minor league club from New England. In a broad sense, the movie falls into the scrappy-underdogs-trying-to-overcome-great-odds cliché that tarnishes so many sports films. But it adds extra layers that make it far more intriguing. For one, the goal here is not winning a championship (though they do, as an afterthought); it’s about players trying to keep their jobs. These hockey players want security and benefits more than a trophy. When aging player-coach Reggie Dunlop (Paul Newman) overhears that the Chiefs are going to be sold (10,000 people at the local mill in Charlestown are being fired and unemployed people don’t buy minor league hockey tickets), he tries to get the owner to sell the team. Problem is, the owner is anonymous and the team is so awful, that nobody will buy them. But in a moment of inspired folly, Dunlap realizes what sells tickets in minor league hockey in the late ‘70: Violence. Lots of it. This scene is a prime example:
So, the unscrupulous Dunlap loads the team with more goons. The more vile the games, the more bloodthirsty fans show up to watch. And the more insane the fights get in the Slap Shot, honestly, the funnier the film becomes. It’s unabashed and nasty and tactless and bloody, and Dunlap’s plan works, for a time. And somehow, too, the movie works. 38 years later, yes, Slap Shot is seriously dated in its look (dig Newman’s brown leather suit!), but as a cynical honest examination of how sports and commerce intersect, it couldn’t be more timeless. And, damn, it’s funny.
Most of that humor is Dowd’s writing, but the idiosyncratic cast assembled by George Roy Hill (4 years removed from his best director Oscar for The Sting) is a thing of ugly, hairy, foul-mouthed beauty (ain’t no way Slap Shot gets made in our PC world now). Newman, swearing like an 8th grader during recess, is surrounded by a ton of unknowns, many pulled straight from the hockey world. It’s the intimate moments between those men (in buses or dirty cafes or locker rooms) that give Slap Shot a pulse and make it worth revisiting countless times.
So, what became of these badfellas? As the hockey playoffs begin, here’s a look at where the Chiefs, and their opponents, ended up.
Played: Reggie Dunlop, player-coach
Now: Of Slap Shot, film writer David Thomson said the Newman’s “shallow tour de force may have been a first reminder to the Academy that [he] had not yet collected his Oscar.” They’d fix that in 1986, when Newman took home the trophy for another sports movie, playing a pool hustler in The Color of Money. The iconic actor passed away from cancer in his Connecticut home at the age of 83 in 2008.
Played: Ned Braden, star player
Now: Ontkean earned a college hockey scholarship before becoming an actor. He’s best known as Sheriff Harry S. Truman in Twin Peaks. If there is a reboot, he’s signed on.
Played: Johnny Upton, captain
Now: Nicholls’ has worked as an actor, director, producer, screenwriter, composer, musician and as a professor at NY’s Tisch School of the Arts Asia. His most recent project has been working as a music supervisor for the modern dance film, Brujo.
Played: Dave “Killer” Carlson, fighter/follower of the Swami Baha
Now: Houser’s odd voice proved resourceful: He worked as a voice actor for television and video games until 2006.
The Hanson Brothers, the Chiefs’ goon squad:
Played: Steve Hanson
Now: Carlson retired from professional hockey and coaching to run a power skating school in northern California. He, Dave Hanson and Jeff Carlson have a regularly updated Facebook page and often attend events as the iconic Hanson Brothers.
Played: Jack Hanson
Now: After retiring from professional hockey in 1984, Hanson now manages a sports facility at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh and tours with the Hanson Brothers.
Played: Jeff Hanson
Now: Carlson now works as an electrician in Muskegon, Michigan. He retired from professional hockey in 1983 and occasionally attends events with the other Hanson Brothers.
Played: Morris Wanchuk, player, degenerate
Now: The most foul-mouthed Chief worked steadily in television and film with guest spots on Law & Order and NYPD Blue. He passed away in New York in 2008.
Played: Jean-Guy Drouin, assistant captain
Now: Ponton currently acts on the Canadian show Lance et Compte (He Shoots, He Scores), which is a French-language soap opera about a Quebec hockey team.
Played: Jim Ahern, player
Now: Mendillo continued acting and was recently featured in in the Academy Award-winner silent film The Artist in 2011.
Played: Denis Lemieux, goalie, butcher of the English language
Now: Earlier this year, Barrette reenacted the movie’s famous opening interview with a local newscaster in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where the original movie was shot. Barrette and his son operate a cedar mill outside of Montreal.
Played: Yvon Lebrun, back-up goalie, benchwarmer
Now: A former professional hockey player, Docken retired from the sport in 1979 and has worked in water filtration sales in Minneapolis for the last 30 years.
Played: Billy Charlesbois, defensemen, lover of twins
Now: Tenesi continued playing hockey until the late eighties in an Italian league and now works as a swimming pool service technician in Canada.
Jean Rosario Tetreault
Played: Andre Bergeron, denture-wearer
Now: Played pro hockey until 1978 and returned to Quebec.
Played: Tim “Dr. Hook” McCracken, Syracuse Bulldogs captain, Dunlop’s main antagonist
Now: D’Amato has bounced between Hollywood and the skiing industry and currently works at a ski shop at a resort in Massachusetts.
Played: Nick Brophy, center for Hyannisport Presidents
Now: Gofton’s final season of pro hockey ended in 1976 and he now owns an equipment rental business in Ontario.
Played: Barclay Donaldson
Now: Smith left pro hockey in 1976 and retired to his family farm in Alberta.
Played: Andre “Poodle” Lussier, player for Syracuse Bulldogs
Now: Bousquet retired from professional hockey in 1980 and now works as a finance manager at a car dealership in Massachusetts.
Played: Gilmore Tuttle, ringer
Now:Nicknamed “Badman” because of the considerable amount of time he spent in the penalty box, Ball continued playing professional hockey until the late seventies. He passed away in 2006.
Played: Ross “Mad Dog” Madison, ringer
Now: The oldest rookie in NHL history when he joined the St. Louis Blues in 1973 for one season at the age of 38, Madigan retired from the game a few years later. He now lives in Portland, Oregon.
Played: Clarence “Screaming Buffalo” Swamptown, ringer
Now: Nolan’s hockey career had ended 20 years ago by the time he had a cameo in Slap Shot. He passed away in 1986.
Played: Ogie Ogilthorpe, ringer
Now: Nancy Dowd’s brother got screen time. Dowd moved behind the camera and worked as the executive and line producer for numerous films. His upcoming projects include a thriller about a hunted member of the IRA and a film about Mata Hari, an exotic dancer and spy who was executed during WWI.