Dave Hanson and the Enduring Legacy of Slap Shot
The Hanson Brothers and other stars of the classic hockey film will return to Johnstown this weekend for a 40th anniversary celebration.
Photo © 1977 Universal Pictures.
Forty years later, the Hanson Brothers are still puttin’ on the foil.
Dave Hanson can’t definitively explain it but he’s not complaining.
Well, not much.
“Ten years ago we wanted to stop doing this,” Hanson admitted this week. “I’d like to get a normal haircut and kind of look like I belong in 2017. But the fans won’t let us do it.
“On one hand, it’s a lot of fun. On the other hand, it really is a blessing to be able to take three stupid-looking guys, to be able to still go out around the country and, besides putting smiles on people’s faces, to help raise a lot of money for people, that’s really been the sweetheart deal of it all.”
And so the perpetual road trip that started in the old iron lung back on Feb. 25, 1977 — the official release date of the cinematic classic “Slap Shot” — rolls along, with a 40th anniversary homecoming in Johnstown set for Saturday.
Johnstown played the part of Charlestown, the fictional home of the Charlestown Chiefs, who were based on the 1974-75 North American Hockey League-champion Johnstown Jets.
Paul Newman, who played Reggie Dunlop, has since moved on to that great arena in the sky.
So have Strother Martin, who portrayed Joe McGrath, and Brad Sullivan (Morris Wanchuk), among others.
But the Hanson Brothers will be there on Saturday, celebrating with fans and teammates at the War Memorial and swapping stories about the toughest team in the Federal League.
“We got Jerry Houser, who played ‘Killer’ Carlson, coming in,” Hanson reported. “We got our captain coming in — the ‘F’in Chrysler plant, here I come’ guy — Johnny Upton [Allan Nicholls]. The pretty boy, Billy Charlebois [Guido Tenesi] out of Toronto is coming down, And of course, Denis Lemieux [Yvon Barrette], the goalie, will be in.
“It’ll be a nice little group of guys that’ll bring some old-time hockey back to Johnstown again.”
“The Boys are Back in Town Tour” has sold various packages that include, among other movie-related events, a tour of Johnstown, dinner and a screening of the film.
Organizers are anticipating participation from fans from, among other places, Minnesota, California, Texas, Montreal and England.
The Hanson Brothers just got back from a trip to Fairbanks, Alaska, and then visits to Milwaukee last Friday and Buffalo last Sunday.
“If it wasn’t for my work schedule, we could be going pretty much every week of the year — and at one time that’s what we did,” Hanson said. “It was worse than playing hockey again. Every game was a road game.”
Appearances are down to 20 or 30 a year.
“We get 300 to 400 requests a year to appear somewhere,” Hanson said.
Hanson became a Hanson Brother when Jack Carlson, the real-life brother of Jeff and Steve Carlson, went from the Johnstown Jets to the Edmonton Oilers, then of the World Hockey Association, just before “Slap Shot” began filming.
Hanson had originally been slated for the “Killer” Carlson role.
When he’s not bringing his character back to life, Hanson works as the executive director of the Island Sports Center on Neville Island, the home ice of the Robert Morris Colonials.
Hanson eventually went from the Jets to the Detroit Red Wings and the Minnesota North Stars.
His son Christian played at Notre Dame and for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
But 40 years later, Dave Hanson is still most identifiable for his alter ego.
Jack Hanson was the guy Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier wanted to take pictures with and have a beer with, along with Jeff and Steve, when the Hanson Brothers played Madison Square Garden.
“It’s unbelievable,” Dave Hanson said of the crowds the Hanson Brothers continue to draw. “It’s grandparents, it’s parents, it’s kids and it’s grandkids. There’s nothing politically correct about it, which I think is one of the reasons it has such staying power, besides being a funny movie.
“It was a mild success at the box office but the critics hated it. It went through the theaters and then it got put on the shelf. I think because it had so many F-bombs in it, it took a long time before it got put on TV. It really wasn’t until the invention of the VCR that it had a resurgence and just took off.
“We don’t think we’re anybody special. It’s just kind of mind boggling and really humbling how amazing this movie is and continues to be.”