Brian Schick: Hockey never looked as good as in 'Slap Shot'

BY BRIAN SCHICK: SCHICK HAPPENS

Published March 9, 2005

Sporting events are great to watch in person, but there is nothing quite like the sports movie. Hollywood loves the way sports create compelling storylines and captivates audiences of fans and non-sports fans alike. Sports movies have the chance to embellish all the factors that make sports compelling: teams overcoming incredible odds to succeed (“Hoosiers”), the calm of individuals in crunch situations (“Rocky”), the humor of crazy teammates (“Major League”) and the ability of a game to bring people together (“Field of Dreams”).

Angela Cesere

I’m a hockey fan by nature, and I still need my fix from the sport from the Great White North, with the professionals being on strike. Because I’m currently in mourning for the lost NHL season, I decided on Monday to wallow in my sorrows with my roommate and another friend and watch the greatest hockey movie ever created — “Slap Shot.”

For those of you poor uncultured souls that haven’t seen this gem, “Slap Shot” stars Paul Newman as Reggie Dunlop, the player/coach of the Charleston Chiefs, a struggling minor league hockey team in a small mining town in Pennsylvania. The Chiefs are struggling to draw fans, so they employ the services of the Hanson brothers (no, not the dorky group of “Mmm Bop” fame), a trio of misfit brothers who are brought in to feed the fans’ desire for bone-crushing hits and dirty play.

Needless to say, fans love the new Chiefs, as all the players adopt the new “killer” mentality and start to win. The only person who isn’t happy is Ned Braden, the leading scorer who plays the finesse game and won’t stoop to the level of being a goon. So the ultimate question becomes: Will the players continue to be goons and play dirty and keep winning, or play “old-time hockey” to win the championship?

This movie has become a cult classic among all sports movie junkies, especially among die-hard hockey fans. The Hanson brothers are perhaps the most recognizable characters from a sports movie — their trademark mullets and black, square-rim glasses have made constant appearances by hockey fans across the country. I know of people who have never seen this movie who know who the Hansons are. Typical response: “Oh, they’re from that movie!”

Aside from “Caddyshack,” “Slap Shot” has some of the best one-liners in the sports movie genre. Most of them I wouldn’t choose to say in print (I don’t want my mom to get upset). But I’ll be happy to tell you my favorites — if you have the stomach for it. I’ll give you a preview:

Talking about the Hanson brothers:

Reggie Dunlop: They brought their f-----’ TOYS with ’em.

(Chiefs owner) McGrath: I’d rather have ’em playin’ with their toys than playin’ with themselves.

Dunlop: They’re too dumb to play with themselves.

What brings it all together is the action sequences. Granted, most of the scenes involve two guys trying to land haymakers on each other, but the movie does a good job of showing life in the minors and how the players rely on each other on and off the ice.

The last piece is the zany cast of characters that is a must for any sports movie — the French-Canadian goalie struggling with English, the rookie who changes his name to “Killer,” the drunken sports writer (I personally took offense), the play-by-play announcer with a rug who isn’t surprised by anything he sees.

I’m sure to anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, “Slap Shot” sounds horrible. But after watching both professional and minor-league hockey and covering the hockey team last year, I’ve learned that most hockey players have a little bit of one of the characters in each of them — whether they’d like to admit it or not. And, fans who follow hockey tend to be equally as crazy as they are in the movie as well; they moon away fans as they arrive into town on their bus.

I’m sure by now some people are asking about some of the other hockey movies out there:

“Wait, I loved the ‘Mighty Ducks!’ ”

“ ‘Miracle’ has the best hockey sequences!”

“ ‘Mystery,’ Alaska is a great story of underdogs!”

Well, you’re all wrong. OK, not wrong — but misguided. All those movies make hockey out to be what it’s not — serious and heartwarming. The “Mighty Ducks” is cute, but not every team is going to beat the Hawks and not every coach is as cool as Gordon Bombay. “Miracle” does an excellent job of depicting the run of the 1980 U.S. hockey team, but everyone knew how the movie would end when they walked into the theater. “Mystery” fails as a comedy. It just isn’t funny, and the hockey jokes don’t work for American audiences (Russell Crowe in a hockey movie? Please).

“Slap Shot” works because it is so over the top, and it would only work with hockey. There’s no way you pull off such a ridiculous story with football players (although “Any Given Sunday” comes close) or some other sport.

It’s also timeless, as it would never get remade today. Living in the Red-nited States of America today, it wouldn’t be successful and probably not even made. But who knows? Hollywood is so desperate for ideas now, they did make “Slap Shot 2” a few years ago.

Brian Schick really does have good taste in movies — after all, he owns all 20 James Bond movies. He can be reached at bschick@umich.edu.: