The definitive hockey comedy, Slap Shot had a biting script, a cast filled with professional players, and more F-bombs than some contemporary movie critics could handle.
1. THE CHARLESTOWN CHIEFS WERE MODELED AFTER AN ACTUAL PRO HOCKEY CLUB.
In Slap Shot, fact and fiction are joined at the hip. The movie was inspired by a down-on-its-luck professional hockey club based in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1950, the Johnstown Jets represented their community in three different minor leagues before a rough economy forced the team to fold in 1977—the year Slap Shot came out. For two seasons in the 1970s, the Jets roster included a winger named Ned Dowd. His experiences on that squad were of great interest to his sister, Nancy, who happened to be an aspiring screenwriter.
Fascinated by the pro hockey subculture, Nancy penned an irreverent script about a struggling minor league club in the fictional rust-belt city of Charlestown, Pennsylvania. Titled Slap Shot, the screenplay was picked up by Universal Studios, which put George Roy Hill—the Oscar-winning director behind Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting and other classic films—in the director’s chair. Johnstown was then selected as the movie’s primary shooting location, although the road game scenes were filmed in an assortment of other cities throughout Pennsylvania and upstate New York.
2. AL PACINO WANTED THE LEAD ROLE.
The main character in Slap Shot is Reggie Dunlop, the Chiefs’ grizzled player-manager. Although Al Pacino expressed a strong interest in the role, Hill chose Paul Newman instead. In Al Pacino, journalist Lawrence Grobel’s extended interview-turned-semi-autobiography of the actor, Pacino cited Slap Shot as a movie he still wishes he had been able to make. “But because George Roy Hill was doing it, I couldn’t do it,” Pacino explained. “I should have made that movie. That was my kind of character—the hockey player. Paul Newman is a great actor, it’s not a matter of that. I read that script and passed it on to George Roy Hill that I wanted to talk to him about it, and all he said was, ‘Can he ice skate?’ That’s all he was interested in, whether I could ice skate or not. That was a certain kind of comment. He didn’t want to talk about anything else. It was like he was saying, 'What the hell, it could work with anybody.’ The way in which he responded said to me he wasn’t interested.”
For the record: Newman was a gifted athlete and a confident skater. He ended up doing a lot of his own skating in Slap Shot, although professional hockey player Rod Bloomfield served as his on-ice stunt double in many sequences.
3. TAPE RECORDINGS OF AUTHENTIC LOCKER ROOM CONVERSATIONS PUNCHED UP THE SCRIPT.
While Ned was still playing for the Jets, Nancy gave him a tape recorder and asked him to document some of the colorful banter that his teammates tossed around; Dowd’s fellow players didn’t seem to mind. “He carried it everywhere and he just recorded all of this sh*t that went on,” said longtime Jet John Gofton. “He would send the tapes to Nancy, and Nancy in turn would write.” Gofton ended up getting a small role in Slap Shot: He played Nick Brophy, the Hyannisport Presidents’ intoxicated center.
4. ONE EX-HOCKEY PLAYER CLAIMS HE WASN’T CAST BECAUSE THE FILMMAKERS THOUGHT HE MIGHT BEAT UP PAUL NEWMAN.
Bill “Goldie” Goldthorpe was not a man to be trifled with. Over the span of his near-20-year hockey career, this Ontario-born enforcer earned a reputation as one of the sport's biggest bullies. Instantly recognizable by virtue of his curly blonde hair, he had a mile-wide mean streak. During his rookie season with the Syracuse Blazers, Goldthorpe got into an altercation with the team’s broadcast announcer—a young Bob Costas—and threatened his life with a hacksaw. He once jumped out of a penalty box to bite an opposing player. And during a different game, he accidentally knocked a man unconscious with a plastic water bottle. By the time he retired in 1984, antics like these had gotten Goldthorpe arrested in multiple cities.
Goldthorpe was also the primary inspiration for Slap Shot’s main villain: the dreaded Ogie Oglethorpe of the Syracuse Bulldogs. Onscreen, it was Ned Dowd who brought this character to life. Oglethorpe’s real-life counterpart could’ve also appeared in the film—if his temper hadn’t gotten the better of him. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Goldthorpe discussed the matter. “You want to know why I wasn’t in the movie?” he asked. “They thought I was too wild and I’d beat up Paul Newman.”
During pre-production, Newman and his brother, Art, would regularly attend Johnstown Jets games. Often, they’d invite a player to join the Slap Shot cast afterwards. One night, they took in a contest between the Jets and the Goldthorpe-led Binghamton Dusters. True to form, the scrapper picked a fight with a fan, earning him one charge of assault. Later, in the dressing room, Goldthorpe erupted. “I had a Coke bottle and I was so angry I threw it at [teammate] Paul Stewart because he wouldn’t shut up,” Goldthorpe told The Globe and Mail. “The bottle hit the wall, and at that moment Newman’s brother walked into the room and got Coke all over him. That was it. They thought I was an undesirable.”
5. TWO OF THE THREE HANSON BROTHERS WERE PLAYED BY REAL-LIFE SIBLINGS.
Slap Shot’s de facto mascots, the bespectacled Hanson brothers, were based on a trio of Johnstown Jets teammates—brothers Jack, Steve, and Jeff Carlson. All three were originally slated to co-star in Slap Shot together, but when Jack was unexpectedly called up by the Edmonton Oilers, he left the project. He was then replaced by yet another Jet: Defenseman Dave Hanson, who supplied the fictitious brothers with their now-famous last name.
6. THE “FINER POINTS OF HOCKEY” BIT CONTAINS A FEW INACCURACIES.
Slap Shot opens with an uncomfortable TV interview between Charlestown media personality Jim Carr (Andrew Duncan) and Denis Lemieux (Yvon Barrette), the Chiefs’ French-Canadian goalie. For the benefit of viewers who might not understand “the finer points of hockey,” Carr asks the athlete to demonstrate some penalty-worthy offenses. On the DVD commentary, Dave Hanson points out that Lemieux rather botched the job. As the scene unfolds, Barrette’s character clearly mistakes hooking for slashing, cross-checking for high-sticking, and butt-ending for spearing. “That’s what happens when you get a goaltender trying to [explain the rules],” Hanson quipped.
7. BEHIND-THE-SCENES PRANKS ABOUNDED.
Hanson and the Carlson brothers would lighten things up via all manner of practical jokes. “We pulled more pranks I think than they ever experienced on a movie set before,” Hanson boasted. “I think because we were three young, tough, carefree, crazy kind of guys they just let us run with things.” On one occasion, the trio surprised Newman by filling his portable sauna with popcorn. The rest of the cast pulled plenty of pranks as well and the group’s shenanigans involved everything from flaming shoelaces to hairdryers that spewed baby powder.
8. LOTS OF ACTORS SUSTAINED INJURIES DURING THE SHOOT.
Even pretending to play hockey can leave you all scratched up. In the above scene, Dunlop and an opposing goalie (portrayed by Christopher Murney) get into a brawl inside the Chiefs’ penalty box. While filming the skirmish, both men injured their groin muscles. Such accidents were commonplace, as Jonathon Jackson revealed in his authoritative book, The Making of Slap Shot: Behind the Scenes of the Greatest Hockey Movie Ever Made.
“Yvon Barrette took a puck off an unprotected part of his leg and wound up hospitalized briefly,” Jackson wrote. “Steve Mendillo [who plays Jim Ahern] suffered a serious cut on his cheek, opened up by a deflected puck during a scrimmage … the cut required 30 stitches to close and Mendillo, accompanied by Nancy Dowd, chose to drive to Pittsburgh to have it sewn up.”
9. SLAP SHOT MAY HAVE COST THE JETS A LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP.
As the movie entered its production period in 1976, the Jets were simultaneously making a North American Hockey League (NAHL) playoff push. All the while, the 11 Johnstown players who joined Slap Shot’s cast remained active members of the roster. So when a rival club eliminated the Jets from the NAHL semifinals, some observers blamed their defeat on the film. In fact, Johnstown’s executive director John Mitchell went so far as to accuse his men of prioritizing Hill’s movie over the team.
Allan Nicholls, who plays Johnny Upton in Slap Shot, believes there could be some merit to this argument. “I would think that having a major film being shot in your city … loosely based around your team, [and] being filmed with your players would cause a distraction,” Nicholls said in retrospect. “I think John Mitchell, being the proud owner that he was, would probably use that as an excuse.”
10. THE NATIONAL ANTHEM SCENE INVOLVED AN ACTOR WHO COULD BARELY SKATE.
One of Slap Shot’s most famous lines comes when a referee played by Larry Block starts lecturing Steve Hanson (a.k.a. Steve Carlson) during the singing of America’s national anthem. Irritated by the tirade, Hanson cuts the man off and screams, “I’m listening to the f*cking song!” According to DVD commentary with Dave Hanson and the Carlson brothers, this brief little moment was surprisingly hard to shoot because Block had difficulty skating over to Carlson—who was standing just a few feet behind him. “Every time he’d turn, he’d fall,” Hanson recalled. Finally, Hill decided to cut the scene in a manner that spared Block from actually having to skate on-camera.
11. SLAP SHOT HAD A DETRIMENTAL EFFECT ON NEWMAN’S VOCABULARY.
The hockey flick’s near-constant use of four-letter words shocked many critics. “There is nothing in the history of movies to compare with Slap Shot for consistent low-level obscenity of expression,” wrote TIME’s Richard Schickel. When ABC created a TV-friendly audio track for the picture, a censor counted no less than 176 F-bombs in the original audio. During a 1983 interview with Rolling Stone, Newman admitted, “Ever since Slap Shot, I’ve been swearing more. You get a hangover from a character like [Reggie Dunlop], and you simply don’t get rid of it. I knew I had a problem when I turned to my daughter one day and said, ‘Please pass the f*ckng salt.’”
Despite this verbal side effect, the film quickly became one of Newman’s favorite projects. “I’m not usually happy with my work,” he once said, “but I loved that movie. It rates very high as something in which I took great personal satisfaction.”
12. A CURRENT NHL COACH WAS AN EXTRA IN THE MOVIE.
Minnesota Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau is a Slap Shot alum; he portrayed a member of the Presidents in the beloved film. Look for him in the above clip (he’s wearing number seven on his jersey). Boudreau spent a grand total of two weeks working on the film, earning $2600 in the process. “I probably spent it in about two days, but [that] was good money,” he said.