A few nights after one of their players was injured by a dirty hit, the Johnstown Jets plotted to exact some revenge on Greg Neeld of the Buffalo Norsemen.
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 Pennsylvania venue that night, cameras rolling. The real-life fight in a minor league playoff series was simply further inspiration for his 1977 movie "Slap Shot," No. 5 on the list for the AP 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 club 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 nonspeaking 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, thanks to its unforgettable lines.
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 them 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 the Toronto Maple Leafs from 2008 to 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.
So relatable that three-time Stanley Cup-winning goalie Marc-Andre Fleury remade Denny Lemieux's famous opening scene about penalties. Edmonton star Connor McDavid called it "a movie that you can watch 100 times and still laugh at."
The hockey classic stemmed from the screenplay of Nancy Dowd, who visited her brother, Ned, in Johnstown when he was a player during the 1974-75 season. He used his tape recorder to capture locker room life, and she took it from there.
"I had to be true to the milieu (of minor league hockey players)," Dowd said at the time. "That's the way they talk."
It was the way they lived, too. Dunlop's apartment in the film? That was Boudreau's actual pad, picked because it was the messiest of any player's. The film also captures life in the minors off the ice — the long bus trips, the downtime in bars and motels. The characters are just characters, in every way, with no big plot twists to worry about.
Christian said for his father and teammates, the acting gig was just a second job between NAHL games. The child-like Hansons were based on the Carlsons, but only brothers Jeff and Steve were in the movie because Jack was called up to the World Hockey Association. Jack Carlson was replaced by former teammate Dave Hanson, who still joins Jeff and Steve to make appearances as the Hanson brothers.
"It was one of those things where they couldn't find enough actors that could skate, so they figured that they would kind of give auditions to the guys that the characters were based off of," he said. "They knocked it out of the park, and so they cast them."
Boudreau remembers spending as much as 10 hours a day in uniform waiting to shoot a scene, how brutally real some of the big hits were and the night he got to spend with Newman, Hill and Dave Hanson in the film room.
"Paul turns around to me at one point and he said, 'This is going to be a great movie,'" Boudreau recalled. "He was right."
SPORTS CINEMA SUCCESS
The top vote recipients in The Associated Press poll of best sports movies from a panel of 70 writers and editors, with year movie was released in parentheses:
1. “Hoosiers” (1986), 46 total votes
T2. “Bull Durham” (1988), 45
T2. “Rocky” (1976), 45
4. “Caddyshack” (1980), 33
5. “Slap Shot” (1977), 32
6. “Field of Dreams” (1989), 31
7. “Raging Bull” (1980), 25
T8. “Major League” (1989), 22
T8. “The Natural” (1984), 22
10. “A League of Their Own” (1992), 20
11. “Moneyball” (2011), 18
T12. “The Bad News Bears” (1976), 17
T12. “Miracle” (2004), 17
14. “Hoop Dreams” (1994), 14
15. “Eight Men Out” (1988), 14
16. “Chariots of Fire” (1981), 12
17. “White Men Can’t Jump” , 11
T18. “Remember the Titans” (2000), 10
T18. “Rudy” (1993), 10
T18. “Seabiscuit” (2003), 10
T21. “Breaking Away” (1979), 9
T21. “The Pride of the Yankees” (1942), 9
T21. “When We Were Kings” (1996), 9
T24. “Brian’s Song” (1971), 8
T24. “Friday Night Lights” (2004), 8
T24. “The Sandlot” (1993), 8
Others receiving at least five votes: “The Blind Side” (2009), “Happy Gilmore” (1996), “Bend It Like Beckham” (2004), “Rush” (2013), “Senna” (2010), “The Longest Yard” (1974), “The Wrestler” (2008), “Victory” (1981).