Book Tells About Iconic Film: The Making Of Slap Shot

That legendary film about the seedy underbelly of minor-league hockey, Slap Shot recently celebrated the 47th anniversary of its release in theaters. 

If you were to bet Vegas online, it’s likely you could’ve got long odds that Hollywood icon Paul Newman, who starred as Reg Dunlop, player-coach of the Charlestown Chiefs of the fictional Federal League, would allow that Slap Shot was among his favorite films. In fact, those closest to Newman suggested that he would acknowledge in private that it was his absolute favorite.

While there’s been no new or updated release of Slap Shot to mark the film’s latest milestone, the cult classic is once more being celebrated via the printed word. Author Jonathan Jackson has released a second edition of his successful book The Making Of Slap Shot: Behind the Scenes of the Greatest Hockey Movie Ever made. 

The book was originally published in 2010. The updated second edition, released by Double J Media, includes several never before seen photos of the making of the film contributed by cast members.

Slap Shot Was Art Imitating Life

The beauty of Slap Shot can be found in its gritty reality. Anyone who’s ever rode the buses with a minor pro hockey team knows that this film was a window into their existence. 

Like Jackson, who was a first-time author when he penned the original Making of Slap Shot, Nancy Dowd, who wrote the book Slap Shot as well as the screenplay for the film, was also a first-timer to the industry. The concept for the story came from spending time with her brother Ned Dowd, who was a player with the Johnstown Jets of the North American Hockey League.

Ned would bring a tape recorder with him everywhere he went with the team – on the bus, in the dressing room – then he’d hand the tapes over to Nancy. She’d use those as unofficial transcripts from which the concept for Slap Shot would be born.

“The movie was all true,” explained Jeff Carlson, who portrayed one of the notorious Hanson brothers in Slap Shot. “They got the ideas from us three clowns and from the team. Going into the stands (to fight opposing fans), the mooning scenes, the race cars (on the road trips). That was minor league hockey, but it’s blown out of proportion to add comedy to the movie.”

Hockey Stars Became Movie Stars

Dave Hanson also wrote a book about his Slap Shot experience.

The original plan for the film was to find actors who could skate. An open casting call was held at an ice rink in Hollywood to audition actors. They first had to prove that they could skate.

“Of course, every agent said that their client could skate,” recalled Ned Dowd. Along with playing the role of arch-villain Ogie Ogilthorpe in the film, Dowd was also given the task of technical director for the film. It was his mission to choreograph all of the hockey scenes in Slap Shot. 

“Once we got them on the ice, it was the most frightening thing I’d ever seen. People were falling on ice, they were being cut by skates.”

Among the actors who auditioned were Peter Strauss and Nick Nolte. It was also known that Al Pacino was interested in the starring role as Reg Dunlop. 

“Eventually, we determined that it would be easier to teach hockey players to act than to teach actors how to skate,” Dowd explained. 

They found enough actors with a hockey background to fill some of the major roles. Michael Ontkean, who played college hockey, was scoring star Ned Braden. Jerry Houser (Killer Carlson) and Allan Nichols (Johnny Upton) were capable skaters. 

For Yvon Barrette, the scene-stealing goalie Denis Lemieux, they used Ron Docken, the real goalie for the Jets, to film his hockey scenes. Once Barrette pulled down his mask, director George Roy Hill would yell cut and Docken would take over. In the film, Docken plays Lebrun, the backup goalie. 

Beyond Jeff and Steve Carlson and Dave Hanson, who portrayed the Hanson brothers, other Jets players also filled roles. Guido Tenesi was Billy Charlebois. Jean-Rosario Tetreault was Bergeron. As well, various pro hockey players including Blake Ball, John Gofton, Connie Madigan and even former NHL coach Bruce Boudreau played parts as opposing players.

“When I point myself out in the movie, my kids don’t believe it’s me because I’ve got hair,” the current follicly-challenged Boudreau said.

Even Newman learned to skate and performed most of his scenes, although on occasion, minor-league star Rod Bloomfield would enter as his stunt double.

Why Paul Newman Loved Slap Shot

Newman and Hill had previously worked together on The Sting and Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. That was one reason why he was intrigued by the role in Slap Shot. 

Mostly, though, it was because he got the opportunity to play an every man, a role in which Newman thrived as both an actor and a human being.

Dave Hanson remembers their first meeting with the Hollywood legend. 

“It was a Sunday afternoon, the day before shooting was to begin,” Hanson recalled. “There was a knock on our door and it was Paul Newman. There was an IndyCar race on TV and he asked if he could come in and watch it.”

Jackson believes this is why Newman was so enthralled with the outcome of Slap Shot.

“Paul believed that Reggie was closer to his real self than any other character he had ever played,” Jackson explained to “He enjoyed being a regular person as often as he could and, with this film, he got to do exactly that. 

“He got to hang out in Johnstown, PA, play hockey, drink beer, joke around and just be one of the guys. He never had more fun making a movie.”

There was a bond between the hockey players and the Oscar-winning actor. Newman taught them how to play scenes. They taught him how to play hockey.

“He was so into helping Jeff, Dave and myself,” Steve Carlson, who portrayed Steve Hanson, told the Hockey News of Newman. “We weren’t actors, although we had been acting all our lives. Paul would give us tips and we would tell him what a real hockey player would do. 

“He pulled off a cult classic.”

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