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Continued: NHL concussion suit has movie 'Slap Shot' straddling a fine line

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Last update: May 8, 2014 - 11:28 PM

“He’s a big dummy — wonderful guy,” said Henry Boucha, a former NHL player and member of the Minnesota Fighting Saints who also played with Carlson and remains friends.

Boucha said he was once hit so hard on the ice that “I had to look at my jersey to see what color I was wearing” to remember what team he was playing for. As for Carlson’s health, he said: “We don’t know how it’s going to be.”

And the movie?

“Ahead of its time,” said Boucha.

‘Cartoon violence’

The players and actors from “Slap Shot” said that the movie has endured in part because it threaded the needle between comedy and cold truth.

Allan Nicholls played team captain Johnny Upton in the film, and now is the artistic director for the New York Film Society in Abu Dhabi. “With a large expat population, [there] is a huge hockey presence here in the desert,” Nicholls said in an e-mail. “Here I am captain Johnny Upton living in Abu Dhabi and being invited to hockey games” and signing autographs.

Nicholls said those trying to connect the game’s concussions to “Slap Shot” are missing the point.

“The film is timeless,” he said. “Sure it is violent at times, but it is cartoon violence.”

The movie has many memorable moments — and its biggest fans can recite the dialogue by memory.

When the Newman-led Charlestown Chiefs take the ice before a game, one of the Hanson Brothers punches an opponent in the face, knocking him down during warmups. The two teams immediately begin brawling, littering the ice with discarded gloves and sticks. An announcer, wearing a red-checked sport coat, tells listeners: “There’s no one to stop it because there are no officials [yet] on the ice. What has come over the Charlestown Chiefs?”

Despite Newman’s star power, the Hanson Brothers — with their long hair, thick black glasses and penchant for wrapping their knuckles with tin foil before a game — stole the show.

Movie remains popular

The movie, directed by George Roy Hill, who also directed “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” lives on.

John Lindberg, a financial planner in Minneapolis, has a Minnesota Fighting Saints jersey once worn by Jeff Carlson, and has loaned it to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in Eveleth, Minn. On the Hanson Brothers website, one fan wrote that he planned to have a copy of the film buried with him when he died.

“It’s great to know that we’ll be going to your grave with you,” the brothers replied.

Joe McMahon is a former equipment manager for the NHL’s New York Islanders, and his Lee and Aidan McMahon Foundation raises money for liver, brain tumor and hospice charities. The foundation has used Chris Murney, who played Tommy Hanrahan, the movie’s hapless goalie, to help raise money. An autographed Hanrahan jersey, said McMahon, is still one of the most sought after items when former NHL players come to his charity golf tournament and auction.

But the foundation, unlike the film, deals with life’s realities, McMahon said. “That stuff at the NHL level didn’t exist to that extreme [as in the movie],” he said.

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  • From left, Steve Carlson, Jeff Carlson and Jack Carlson during Minnesota Fighting Saints training camp in 1977.

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