By Paul Post
Most guys save sticks, pucks, jerseys and perhaps a few choice autographed photos from their pro hockey careers.
Dave Hanson’s favorite possession is the goofy-looking thick glasses that he and his fictional brothers, Steve and Jack, wore in the 1977 movie “Slap Shot.”
He also has an autographed picture of himself with Hollywood legend Paul Newman, who played coach Reggie “Reg” Dunlop, along with race car superstar Mario Andretti at the Detroit Grand Prix that Newman, a huge racing enthusiast, invited Hanson to.
Somehow, Hanson also managed to keep one of the movie’s most important props.
“Guido Tenesi played Billy Charlebois, the Charlestown Chiefs pretty boy and teammate of the Hanson Brothers. In the movie, some of the Chiefs are doing a fashion show and Billy is introduced as being from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, as he walks the runway in his blue suit. I have that suit,” he explained.
Hanson’s most important collection, however, is stored in his memory banks.
“I’m a collector of memories,” he said, reflecting back on a career that was colorful both on and off the ice.
First signed by the Minnesota Fighting Saints of the old World Hockey Association, Hanson was sent to the Johnstown (Pa.) Jets of the North American Hockey League for the 1974-75 season. He quickly earned a tough guy reputation by racking up 249 penalty minutes in his first year, when the team won a league title, and a whopping 311 minutes the following season.
Coincidentally, writer Nancy Dowd, the sister of Jets player Ned Dowd, followed the team around during Hanson’s first year with the club and authored a script that became the basis for the fictitious Chiefs and the “Slap Shot” movie.
More than 30 years later, the film keeps growing in popularity, which Hanson attributes to its lack of political correctness, eccentric but lovable characters and memorable one-liners. However, his $50 royalty checks ($36.72 after taxes) remain the same.
“There’s absolutely nothing politically correct about the film,” he said. “Today, there’s so much of that it makes you want to barf. “Slap Shot” is just downright hilarious. That’s what people like about it. It’s raw, but it’s just funny. It’s tremendous.”
Originally, Hanson was cast to play the role of hockey goon Dave “Killer” Carlson. But the brother of Steve and Jeff Carlson, Hanson’s real-life Johnstown teammates, couldn’t make the shoot, so Hanson became their fictional brother and the trio went down in screen history as “The Fighting Hanson Brothers.”
They still get nearly 400 requests for personal appearances a year, but they narrow that down to about 30 events, almost always for charity. This winter, they went to Boston for a breast cancer benefit event and traveled to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for an outdoor pond hockey tournament on Lake Huron. They’re quite often found at youth hockey conventions, too.
“The popularity just continues to grow and grow,” Hanson said. “It doesn’t stop.”
In fact, many of the movie’s most faithful fans, including Hanson’s son, Christian – a standout Notre Dame hockey player – weren’t even born when the film was produced. It has passed down from one generation to the next, in a class by itself in hockey lore.
“The movie glorified fighting, but in a comedic way,” Hanson said.
The 1970s was the worst or best era, depending on one’s point of view, when it came to hockey violence. The “Broadway Bully” Philadelphia Flyers, with the likes of tough guy Dave Schultz, won back-to-back Stanley Cups, and bench-clearing brawls were a common occurrence not just in the NHL, but at all levels of the sport, perhaps even more so in the minors.
Rodney Dangerfield’s famous one-liner says it all: “Hey, I went to a fight the other night and a hockey game broke out!”
Hanson, for his part, has mixed emotions about how things have changed since then.
“There’s good things and bad things about the way the game has evolved,” he said. “Bench clearing was too frequent. But trying to eliminate the one-on-one stuff, the impromptu fights, I don’t think that’s done the game justice. It’s hindered it.
“Now you see more hits from behind and ‘face-washing,’ players putting their gloves in other guys’ faces. You never used to see that kind of thing before. Players just aren’t as accountable as they were in the past. They knew if they did that, someone would knock the snot out of them.”
The way referees call games today, players who retaliate are most apt to get penalized and perhaps thrown out of games, putting their teams at a disadvantage. So a lot of little things go unchecked, because even little guys know they can get away with it. There’s no retribution,” Hanson said.
A leader on and off the ice
Movies aside, Hanson was a solid all-around player, a leader teammates looked up to wherever he went during a 10-year pro career. He spent parts of two years in the NHL with the Red Wings and Minnesota North Stars.
Today, Hanson is facilities manager at Robert Morris University’s Sports Center in Pittsburgh. He’s also an avid fan of his son, Christian, a 6-foot-4 junior centerman for Notre Dame, ranked among the top NCAA hockey teams in the nation.
Christian didn’t know about and never saw the movie until he was 13, and it played on a bus carrying his youth hockey team. His jaw dropped open when he saw his father, a perfect gentleman at home, whaling away at opponents in the profanity-laced film. Even after seeing it, he didn’t tell his father until several years later.
Finally, in junior hockey, Christian got into a scrum of his own.
“It’s exhilarating, I loved it, it’s a rush,” he declared in the ESPN broadcast, “Son of Slap Shot.”
Dave was equally excited.
“I said, ‘Now you’ve got to do it more,’ ” he said, smiling.
While the elder Hanson made it to the NHL largely on the strength of his fists, Christian is more apt to get there on pure skill. His 13 goals were tied for third highest on the team last year and he was instrumental in helping the Fighting Irish reach the 2008 NCAA Frozen Four where their luck finally ran out against Boston College in the national championship game. Notre Dame defeated Michigan State, 3-1, in the West Regional to earn its first-ever berth in the Frozen Four, with Christian named ‘first star.’ The night before, the Irish upset heavily-favored New Hampshire, 7-3. Hanson finished the weekend with three goals and an assist to win a spot on the all-regional team.
“I’m a big two-way center,” he told ESPN. “I take care of the defensive zone first, and I contribute offensively. Hopefully, people recognize me for the hockey player that I am.”
Christian was invited to an NHL combine a few years ago, but fell through the cracks and didn’t get drafted.
“Things happen for a reason,” Dave said. “By playing at Notre Dame, he has four years to develop and become a free agent. The NHL can make an offer any time they want. My hope, and I think Christian’s, is that he’ll play all four years at Notre Dame and win a national championship. He wants to play at the professional level. He wants to get to that level. I think he’s got the tools to do that.”
When not working and keeping tabs on Christian, Dave is busy writing his autobiography, The Slap Shot Original: The Man, The Foil, The Legend. Co-authored by Ross Bernstein and published by Triumph Books in Chicago, the book is due out this fall.
That will lead to book signings and more public appearances. Hanson, of course, wouldn’t go anywhere without his thick “Coke bottle” spectacles.
“Chicks loved the glasses,” he said, laughing. “That would be like Superman without his cape.” u
Paul Post is a freelance writer from Glens Falls, N.Y. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.