If you google the top movies from the 1970’s you will get a long list of franchise defining movies like The Godfather, The Exorcist, Jaws, Halloween, Rocky, Star Wars, and many other Oscar worthy films that defined the decade. I could have chosen any of those epic movies but I figured everyone else was going to so I went off the charts here. Hockey has been a huge part of my life since I was kid and although Slap Shot is not the kind of movie young kids should be watching, I’ve been watching it since a very young age. Slap Shot means as much to the game of hockey, the history of the sport, as the black puck or the ice itself.
You are probably asking yourself how do I come to that conclusion, some 40 years later? Well let’s take a moment to examine the connections between the Hollywood version of hockey and the actual game itself. Before I forget to mention it, Paul Newman actually learn how to skate for his role and did all of his scenes. How’s that for a bit of movie/hockey trivia?
This film is based on the fictional Charlestown Chiefs, who play in the Federal League. They are a loveable bunch of losers who couldn’t win a hockey game if the other team didn’t show up and they had the ice to themselves. Led by player/coach Red Dunlop (Newman) and leading scorer Ned Braden (Michael Ontkean), the Chiefs are looking to relocate to Florida when the local mill closes. In order to make the deal possible, the Chiefs need to change their identity and become winners. Penny pinching General Manager Joe McGrath (Strother Martin) brings in three brothers from the Iron League to change the personality of the team and ignite a fire in the guys. Jeff, Jack, and Steve Hanson are some of the weirdest hockey players you’ll ever meet, but man can these guys play. Whether it’s fighting the opponents, the fans, or each other, the Chiefs begin to win and earns points as they make their way to the championship and hopefully to the sunny beaches of south Florida.
Hockey was a rough and tumble game in the 1970’s. For people who watch today’s game, fighting is non-existent and the game is all about speed and finesse. Several decades ago it was about hitting your opponent through the boards or breaking your stick across their skull. There’s a scene in Slap Shot where one of the Hanson brothers gets hit in the face by a key chain, which prompts the Chiefs to invade the stands and fight everyone. Sadly, there was a game in which a player from the Boston Bruins went into the crowd and fought some fans for God knows what reasons.
I love hockey history and the 1970’s is definitely one of the most talked about periods. The National Hockey League had expanded from six to 12 teams in 1967 and the power house Boston Bruins would fight against their arch rivals the Montreal Canadiens numerous times for the Stanley Cup during the decade. Meanwhile down in Philadelphia, the Flyers were one of the new expansion teams and looked to leave their mark on the sport. Named “The Board Street Bullies” for their wrestling style of hockey, the Flyers became the first expansion team to win the Stanley Cup just seven years after joining the league. A lot of the guys from those teams are in the Hall of Fame, but none of them have all their teeth. Aggressive play has both its rewards and consequences. As evident in Slap Shot, fighting may look pretty on the outside, but when you are in the trenches, it is all out war and some are lucky to survive.
I chose Slap Shot as my selection for the Ultimate 70’s pick because it really glorifies what playing hockey was like during that decade. If you didn’t bleed or you still had all your teeth, you weren’t really a hockey player. This film, based on several character’s real life experiences in the bus riding minor leagues, is everything you would want in a movie. There is plenty of sex, dirty jokes, violence, great hockey action, a variety of stupid characters, some crazy characters, a guy named Killer, a goalie who plays despite not taking his medication, brothers who play with this fists, and a general manager who makes his players perform in fashion shows. A lot of the story won’t make any sense to the average movie goer who doesn’t like sports, even though this is really the ultimate Cinderella story for hockey movies. If you play hockey, you can probably quote this movie by heart and definitely know a guy who owns a Chiefs jersey. That’s the beauty of it all.
There will be hundreds of movies out there that remind people of life back in the 1970’s, but there will always be one Holy Grail of hockey movies, the film every film made after it has to live to, and that is Slap Shot. Arguably the greatest hockey movie of all-time.