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Hanson: 'We were Curly, Moe and Larry'

Saturday, 12.20.2008 / 1:00 AM / NHL Insider

By John McGourty - Staff Writer

Dave Hanson is one of the few people immortalized in two genres.

Hanson's role is fondly remembered by hockey fans and film buffs. In the film, Hanson was teamed with the real-life Carlson brothers, Jeff and Steve, as "the Hanson Brothers" in the George Roy Hill classic that starred the late Paul Newman.

Hanson has teamed with writer Ross Bernstein to author "Slap Shot Original: The Man, The Foil, The Legend," a rollicking tale of the making of Slap Shot, Hanson's hockey career and his life after hockey. There are many, many stories in this book that will have you laughing out loud.

Hanson recently sat down with to discuss all things Slap Shot. This is an excellent book, very well written. The opening paragraph grabs the reader and then you pick up the narrative and the laughs never stop. Your co-author Ross Bernstein wrote that first paragraph?

Dave Hanson: Yes, that's Ross' work. My intro to Ross was out of the blue. He's a Minnesota boy and so am I, and we realized we had a group of mutual friends. I guess that's how he tracked me down and asked me if I would be interviewed for the book he was writing at the time, called "The Code."

That conversation, as will happen when you talk hockey, turned to my stories and he told me I should write a book one day. I didn't think much more about it until one day I was swapping stories with some other ex-players and it seemed like a good idea to publish these stories, especially because my children don't know them. It was about a year later that I called Ross and asked him how to go about writing a book and he said that you first need a publisher. I asked him how that happens and he said he'd get back to me. He evidently called back.

Dave Hanson: Yes, he called me back and said he had a publisher. I said I'd write the stories and he said he'd go out and talk to some people that know me and grew up with me. I gave him a list of names.

Ross had played the game and had been the University of Minnesota Gopher mascot. He knew Herb Brooks and I knew Herb, so we had a lot in common. He was the professional writer. I told him my ideas for the book. He said it was my book and he liked what I was doing. He submitted it to the publisher and they did a nice job with it, too.

I submitted something that looked more like "War and Peace," than what you're looking at here. I'd never written anything to this extent. I once took a writing course from SUNY in New York because I enjoy writing, but I never did anything with it. I
figured I was going to write the story of my life so I first talked with my dad to get some background information. That's how I wound up with a "War and Peace"-sized manuscript. After he retired as a player, Steve Carlson was coaching in Memphis and they did the first Hanson Brothers promotion. The fan response was tremendous and that really surprised you. You have certainly maximized your connection to the movie, but it seems to me that Slap Shot was more popular 5-10-15 years later than it was in the year or two after it was released. Do you feel it's been a fair exchange, what the movie did to increase your prominence, your work has, in turn, raised the prominence of the movie? A symbiotic relationship, if you will?

Dave Hanson: The most important thing is what the movie has done for others. We've been able to help raise millions of dollars for charitable causes. Yet, there's no comparison with what Paul Newman was able to do through his efforts and products. Every little bit helps. Jeff, Steve and I feel good that we've been able, through the popularity of the movie and the Hanson Brothers, to turn it into something positive that helps others.

We just came back from Sudbury, Ontario, where we helped raise money for the House of Kin, which is similar to the Ronald McDonald Houses in the United States. We've done everything from small youth-hockey organizations to major charities. We worked with Brian Burke and the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings in November to raise $500,000 for the Southern California fire victims.

That was an unprecedented opportunity where two NHL teams played a charity hockey game in midseason and we were able to be a part of that. So it's not what the movie has done for us, but rather what the movie has enabled us to do for others. The movie has always been described as a period piece about minor-league hockey in that era, but doesn't it go deeper than that? America contains thousands of small towns and cities, many built around one industry, and this movie also captures the decline of American manufacturing and the resulting decline of the cities.

Dave Hanson: Johnstown was the prime example, which is why it was the perfect setting for the movie. When Nancy Dowd, the writer and sister of Ned Dowd, who was playing with us at the time, came to town to visit him she saw it all. The idea for the movie came when Ned told her the mill was shutting down. We started talking about the mill closing, people out of work and how it might impact us. Would the team be shut down too?

That conversation was the genesis for the movie. The light bulb went off for her. The Johnstown fans were great fans, blue-collar, shot-and-a-beer fans. Shift workers in a great city, but that was the beginning of the decline of the American steel industry and the mining industry. When Henry Bumstead, the art director, was looking at different cities to film, he zeroed right in on Johnstown for a variety of reasons. No. 1 was because it had a statue of a dog in the downtown park. It was the right setting for the way this movie was written.

That was minor-league hockey, and Johnstown was a perfect fit because those hard-working steel workers, mill workers and miners loved a tough brand of hockey and we certainly had that in Johnstown. The Charlestown Chiefs depicted that to a T. The book makes it clear that the actors in Slap Shot bonded in a way that is unusual in movie-making and that many of you have remained friends for life.

Dave Hanson: I'm always asked why the movie has such staying power. You'll read in the book where the actors Allan Nichols, Jerry Houser and Paul D'Amato, all professional actors, say they have never been part of another movie where the entire crew and cast and management came together and had a blast, one big, happy family.

I think a big reason for that was three, 20-year-old hockey players who didn't give a hoot about anything other than having a good time and had no concerns about their acting. Then you had Paul Newman, who was a fun-loving prankster like everyone else. Strother Martin was right up there with him and George Roy Hill was also from Minnesota and, I guess, understood us. It all came together and was just relaxed fun with everyone doing what they like and I think that all came across on screen.

We saw each other every day for three months and got to be good friends. After the movie, we kept in touch. Through the years, some of them have used their Slap Shot character names to help charities. Paul D'Amato, who played Tim "Dr. Hook" McCracken has done events with us. Yvon Barrette, goalie Denis Lemieux in the movie, was with us in Sudbury for the House of Kin. We've hooked up with him a couple of times. These people were not only great actors who made a great movie but they became great friends and we've done good things together. George Roy Hill was a world-famous movie director, but he was all out to keep his sanity around the Hanson Brothers.

Dave Hanson: This was our first exposure to doing something significant and we probably didn't recognize the importance of being professional on set and how to conduct ourselves. We certainly weren't actors. He'd put our lines on pieces of papers for us. The problem for him was that he wasn't talking to one guy, he was talking to three guys who were basically Curly, Moe and Larry.

So we tried a scene and George, kind of patronizingly, said that was pretty good, but let's try it again. We did and he said the same thing again. Now, we didn't know him well at that time, not like we did by the end of the movie. So the three of us said to him, "Why don't we do it the way we think it should be done and see how it comes out?"

He said OK, but he had no idea. It was the part where Paul is giving a discouraged speech in the locker room, you know, "C'mon guys, we've got a few losses but we can do it." All of three of us pop in with "Yeah, we gotta lot of losses" and I think the expression on Newman's face was like "what the heck is going on?" We surprised him and everyone else. They just let us run on until someone yelled cut. George was stunned and then all of a sudden he said what we had done was awesome and from now on do it the way we think it should be done.

We get asked a lot if we ever played hockey because people think we were actors. Actually, the tough roles were the actors who were trying to be hockey players. They had to "act" as hockey players, but we weren't acting. The cast is a mix of extras, minor actors who could skate, pro hockey players and then some top actors like Newman, Martin, M. Emmet Walsh, Lindsay Crouse, Jennifer Warren, Jerry Houser, Brad Sullivan and Kathryn Walker. Michael Ontkean, who played Ned Braden, had 30 goals for the University of New Hampshire one season before he turned to acting. You must have been in awe of them.

Dave Hanson: Those fellows had no egos. They were just regular guys. When you first met them, you were awe-struck, but right away they made us feel at ease, like you were talking to your brother, sister or neighbor. Strother Martin was as funny off-screen as he was on-screen and we used to just laugh and laugh. We'd have a break and Paul Newman would drag us to the RV and crack a couple of Buds. We'd go out to parties and they'd come along. George too.

You know, I was a 20-year-old kid trying to play pro hockey and I had no idea what a big shot George Roy Hill was in Hollywood. I'd certainly never find out from him because he didn't act like it. Looking back, I just shake my head and think of how prominent these people were and didn't act like it. You were a St. Paul high school hockey star who played professionally for 10 years, achieving your goal of playing in the NHL. You played with guys who went on to leading roles in the NHL, like Larry Pleau, Craig Hartsburg, Ted Nolan, Bobby Smith, Scott Howson and many more. You've made a lot of friends and a living from hockey. It seems like a great life?

Dave Hanson: Unbelievable. I played with Dave Keon! I played with Frank Mahovlich! I grew up in St. Paul with Paul Holmgren. I played against George McPhee. Brian Burke and I go back to our college days. It is kind of neat. I hadn't talked to Paul Holmgren in a couple of years (before Slap Shot) and I called him and said "Guess what I'm doing?" Those guys are such good guys, it's great to see what they've done with their lives. Burkie and Homer have risen to the top of the game and they've got tough jobs, but when we talk, we just go back to 30 or 40 years ago and it's great to talk and laugh again.

Quote of the Day

Life's about opportunity and how you respond to that opportunity, and obviously he must have some swagger about him, some confidence about him, because he was solid. He made some good saves. He was 6-foot-3 on every shot, which is a good thing for a goalie. He played well. We got a win.

— Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock on rookie goaltender Garret Sparks, who made 24 saves in his first NHL start, a 3-0 win vs. Oilers
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