A few nights after one of their players was injured by a dirty hit, the Johnstown Jets plotted to exact some revenge on Buffalo’s Greg Neeld.
An all-out brawl broke out during warmups and the North American Hockey League game was postponed, much to the dismay of ownership and presumably the fans at a sold-out War Memorial Arena. It just so happened that director George Roy Hill was in the arena that night, cameras rolling. The real-life minor league fight was simply further inspiration for his 1977 movie “Slap Shot,” ranked No. 5 in a vote by the sports staff of The Associated Press on the Top 25 sports movies of all time.
Bawdy, bloody and irreverent, the movie is a wild ride through the final season of the fictional Charlestown Chiefs, a loser of a team in a blue-collar town with thousands of factory workers facing layoffs. The team is on the chopping block and things are grim until aging captain Reggie Dunlop, played to perfection by Paul Newman, figures out the Chiefs can at least draw fans — and maybe land a buyer — if they abandon “old time hockey” and goon it up with the rough stuff from the bespectacled Hanson brothers and their mostly eager teammates.
“It’s one of those iconic movies that has so many spots in it where the words come up and you use it in dressing rooms and stuff all the time,” said longtime NHL coach Bruce Boudreau, who actually played for the Jets and has a non-speaking role in the film.
Long gone from hockey is the fighting and rampant cheap shots practiced by the Chiefs. That doesn’t mean the movie doesn’t resonate today, far from it. Like all the great ones of this ilk — from “ Caddyshack ” to “Bull Durham” and more — it is filled with lines that will never be forgotten.
Players still joke about putting on the foil for a fight. Someone is always the “chief punk” on the other team. Who can forget “the unfortunate Denny Pratt tragedy” or letting ’em know you’re there? Doesn’t every league have an Ogie Oglethorpe?
“Anybody who’s played the game can still relate to it in some capacity because as much as it’s changed, a lot of it is still the same,” said Christian Hanson, the son of Dave Hanson and a veteran of 42 NHL games with Toronto between 2008-2011. “A lot of guys playing midget hockey, junior hockey, minor league hockey have gone through a lot of the bus trips and the playing cards on the bus and being on the road with the guys.