|By Dickie Dunn, former sports editor
"To see the three Chiefs make a scoring rush, the bright colors of their jerseys flashing against the milky ice, was to see a work of art in motion."
I wrote those words the year our beloved Charlestown hockey team, the Chiefs, won the Federal League Championship. The year the Hanson Brothers -- Jack, Steve and Jeff – turned hockey upside down.
I just tried to capture the spirit of the thing.
But with the sad passing of coach Reggie Dunlop, I was hoping to recapture some of that blue and gold spirit and brighten my day. So, I gave ol’ Steve Hanson a call, just for old times sake. I left a message with his mom and waited for several weeks for Steve to call back.
Hanson finally called me on Tuesday, and said that he is heading up to Boston for the weekend. Steve said he was happy to call me back (but it took him some time, and some business with a Coke machine, to get enough change for the pay phone) and there was the whole matter of not missing the cartoon show Speed Racer.
“He let us play the game the way it should be played, the way Eddie Shore and Dit Clapper played, and Gordie Howe,” said Hanson of Coach Dunlop. “We played old-time hockey and he let us play old-time hockey.
“He guided us through the rough times, and then he wanted us to play legitimate hockey, and we realized it didn’t work, and he said, ‘OK, back to old-time hockey,’ and we won the championship.
“Anyway, he gave us the freedom to play the way the game should be played,” said Steve, emphatically.
Frankly, the Hanson’s weren’t so free at the beginning of their Charlestown career. In fact, when they first arrived in our little milltown, Reggie told me that the three brothers, who often employed tin foil on their hands to enhance their pugilistic abilities, would never “leave the bench.”
However, when Dunlop began his ill-advised (some would say criminal) attempt to save his job and move the team to Florida, Reg knew he needed personalities like the brutal brothers in order to market the lame duck Chiefs.
Dunlop wanted to sell some tickets, climb the standings of the Federal League and attract a buyer – any buyer.
I was doubtful and thought that he had maybe talked to some disreputable types down south. After all, how could anybody in his right mind buy a fifth-place team?
In any case, the Hanson boys were let off the bench and left the rest of the league in their wake.
Looking back, the times were good. The Chiefs booster club was revived and traveled to each away game and there were even moments when it seemed like Dunlop’s rumor about a buyer in Florida (or something along those lines) would become a reality.
But privately, the coach was concerned about the Hanson’s mental health.
During that season, Reg stopped by my office and told me that when they came to Charlestown from the Iron League the Hanson boys brought their “toys with them” – and then Dunlop lost his concerns in a can of Schmidt's while continuously shaking his head and muttering to himself.
Meanwhile, the Hanson Brothers became famous (or infamous?) for their “unique” tactics.
After one particularly brutal game, that saw the boys go into the stands, police officers “politely” asked for the three brothers and took them to jail for inciting a riot. Undaunted, they tossed their hair back and used their one call to order pizza.
Looking back, Steve, who ran a hockey school last summer in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, just laughed when asked about idiosyncrasies like the toys. He tried to explain their strange habits away as if it were the most normal thing in the world for a trio of hockey playing brothers (they were not triplets, by the way) to carry around a suitcase of little cars, but it wasn’t much to go on.
“We shared it when we would go on the road,” said Steve, a-matter-of-factly. “But, you’ve got to remember, that Jack, when we’re in the hotel room, he was losing the race, picked up one of the cars. He threw it, broke it, and blamed me for breaking the car, but he actually broke it. That car was working fine.
“So he still has his broken vehicle. I have the track and I have my car that won the championship on the race track in the hotel room.”
I don’t remember anything about that, or about any racing championship, and I am not sure I want to. But who am I to judge?
I do, however, remember the famous final move that helped the Chiefs to the championship that season and my conversation with Hanson helped me drift back to the final moments of that glorious season.
“Not one of the classic moves I would have done,” said Steve, who was still clearly perplexed by the sight of the former All-Eastern Princeton Tiger skating about in his athletic supporter. “But we won the championship.
“After all, he was a teammate of ours, and we supported Ned the whole time.”
As I recall, Ned was actually having some marital issues that season -- his wife Lily had moved out and taken their dog, Ruby. But they made up after the Chiefs won the title.
“Ned wasn’t one of the fighters – our job was to protect him – and that’s just part of the game,” said Hanson in conclusion. “He scored goals, and we protected him.
“That’s how it is.”
Yep, that’s how it was, folks. And it was glorious.
Rest in Peace, Reggie and thanks for the phone call Steve. I owe you a quarter.With apologies to M. Emmet Walsh, Stu Hackel and Nancy Dowd.