The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

December 13, 2012

‘Slap Shot’ a hit in theater

Mike Kovak

JOHNSTOWN — The New York Daily News rated “Slap Shot” as the fourth greatest sports movie made.

Sports Illustrated ranked the 1977 motion picture starring Paul Newman fifth.

When it comes to diehard hockey fans and the City of Johnstown, there’s little disputing where the classic comedy ranks.

“It’s the greatest sports move ever made, bar none,” said Steve Carlson, a player on the 1974-75 Johnstown Jets’ team that won the North American Hockey League championship and the team whose rags-to-riches story provides the basis for “Slap Shot,” which was filmed in and around Johnstown.

Carlson played professional hockey from 1973-87 and his career included stops in the NHL with the Los Angeles Kings and the World Hockey Association with the New England Whalers, Minnesota Fighting Saints and Edmonton Oilers.

Despite a lengthy playing career, Carlson is recognized  world-wide as one-third of the Hanson Brothers. Carlson portrayed Steve Hanson. His brother, Jeff Carlson, was Jeff Hanson and Dave Hanson portrayed Jack Hanson. The characters were based on the Carlson brothers. Dave Hanson also played for the Jets.

All three members of the Hanson Brothers will be at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena tonight as part of a promotion for the surging Johnstown Tomahawks, who return from a highly successful six-game road trip to play North Division power Jamestown at 7 p.m.

Steve Carlson returned early for a special screening of “Slap Shot” on Thursday night at Westwood Plaza Theatre.  

For Johnstown hockey fans, Hanson Brothers Night and the movie screening offers an opportunity to reconnect with the city’s proud past.

“It’s always fun coming back to this town,” said Carlson, who spent four years coaching the Johnstown Chiefs and a stint as an assistant coach for John Bradley at Bishop McCort High School. “This is where it all started.”

For the Tomahawks, who sit in fourth place in the North Division of the North American Hockey League but have won seven of their last eight games, it’s a great reminder that the team is back in town for the first time in a month.

“One of our objectives is to bring people fun, family entertainment,” said Jean Desrochers, Director of Business Operations for the Tomahawks. “It’s an affordable night out and we’re trying to appeal for people with different promotions.”

Based on the vibe at the theatre, score one for the Tomahawks.

“I’ve been waiting 30 years to meet all three brothers,” said Marcus Spanko, a 40-year-old Johnstown resident. “It seems like any time they come here, I’m out of town or something came up.”

The Hanson Brothers have appeared just about everywhere.

They’ve made appearances all over the United States, are frequently asked to get into character in Canada and are nearly as big in Germany as they are in Johnstown.

They even led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in warmups before a football practice.

Trips to Johnstown aren’t frequent, but that’s what makes them special.

“Thirty-six years ago, I played here and, 35 years ago, I made a movie here,” Carlson said. “I won a championship here and it’s the last time (Johnstown) had a team win one. That’s one of the reasons I love coming back to Johnstown. It’s a place if you work hard, skate hard and play hard, you’ll get a following.”

Carlson later relayed a similar message to the Tomahawks players, who were in attendance. The organization organized the movie screening.

“What’s there to do in this town? You play hockey, go to school or work,” Carlson quipped. “This is one of the greatest towns I ever played hockey in. It really is.”

“Slap Shot” developed a following shortly after release, and it’s a movie that continues to grow in popularity. For some, it’s the off-color humor, the type of stuff non-existent in today’s comedies. For others, it’s more personal.

“It didn’t portray us as this place where it always rains and everyone’s miserable,” said Spanko, who sports a No. 17 Hanson Charlestown Chiefs jersey and the required taped, horn-rimmed glasses. “I saw the movie for the first time when I was 10 years old and I had to sneak in to do it.”

Westmont resident Tim Miller didn’t watch the movie until later in life, but he instantly became hooked.

“It tells the story of the roots of hardcore hockey,” Miller said. “If you’re from that era, you appreciate the roots of hockey.”

There’s little doubt the 200 people in attendance appreciated learning some of the behind-the-scenes tidbits Carlson provided.

As for the fashion show, shown early in the movie, that actually happened. So did the fight in the stands with fans.

In one locker room scene just after the Hanson Brothers were acquired, they put foil around their knuckles.

“We used to tape our knuckles like boxers until they outlawed tape,” Carlson said. “So, what we did is we’d get golf gloves and we’d scuff them up until they raised up. Then, we’d get the golf gloves wet and set them on the radiator so they’d get real hard. The only thing was, you’d have to fight right at face-off, as soon as that puck hit the ice because if you waited, the sweat would soften up the gloves.”

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