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“Slap Shot” Shoots and Scores for Laughs

Between the on-ice action and off-ice jokes, the 1977 hockey comedy “Slap Shot” makes for a funny movie to watch.

“Slap Shot” is an amusing, energized comedy about a minor-league hockey team and the quirky characters who play on it. It was directed by George Roy Hill and written by Nancy Dowd, who was inspired by her brother’s experiences playing hockey.

The film stars a coach and player for a minor league hockey team who tries to spark the interest of locals after learning his team is folding at the end of the season. He attracts a crowd by spreading a rumor saying the team is relocating, then convinces the team to develop a new, aggressive attitude.

This movie is enjoyable throughout; there’s never a dull or boring moment. If you’re a hockey fan, you’ll find the little details, jargon and jokes entertaining, but the humor doesn’t get lost even if you don’t watch the sport. The little things like French-Canadian players struggling to communicate but still going for it and the random chirps on the ice causing fights reflect what happens in the NHL. A lot of hockey players come from all over the world and speak different languages, and a lot of hockey players like to chirp at their opponents on the ice.

The 1977 comedy is set in Charlestown, Penn., and opens with an interview between Charlestown Chiefs goaltender Denis Lemieux and the local sportscaster Jim Carr. Lemieux goes over all the penalties and things that make people bad players in hockey.

The movie stars Paul Newman as Reggie Dunlop, who is the coach and a player on the Chiefs. After catching wind of the town’s steel mill closing, he learns the team is on the verge of folding. Dunlop decides the Chiefs need to change in order to stay relevant and gain popularity.

Fighting to end their losing streak, Dunlop tells Dickie Dunn, the sports writer who covers them, there’s a rumor the Chiefs might be sold to a Florida community. He also encouraged players to get in more brawls against other teams after learning it excites the fans. Dunlop took it further by allowing the violent and newly-acquired Hanson brothers ice time.

The Hanson brothers were one of the best parts of the movie, as they were the ones who initiated the violence against the other teams. When they finally got their chance to play, the three brothers, donning glasses and flowing hair, beat up every player in sight. When a fan of an opposing team threw something at one of them, all three went into the stands to beat up whoever they thought threw it, leading to their arrest. It seemed like they were being themselves instead of playing characters, as two of the three actors are brothers in real life.

One of the things I love most about hockey is a player’s ability to fight and then continue playing the game. The violence looks a lot more animated because it’s made to be humorous, but it still captures the general spirit of checking and fighting.

As the Chiefs slip further into their violent new attitudes, the team’s star player Ned Braden grows to hate playing in Charlestown. Dunlop tries to coax Braden into becoming a fighter by convincing his wife Lily to leave him, but he doesn’t give in to the antics.

In the movie, it seemed as though Braden didn’t care about his wife and her wishes. They only lived in Charlestown so he could play hockey. He didn’t seem to care when she stopped talking to him, until Dunlop brought her up to try and get him to fight during a game. The plot point didn’t make much sense to me during my first watch, and they only seemed like they liked each other at the end of the movie. For most of the movie she would just drink, and whenever Dunlop tried to manipulate her, she would just leave or tell him to go away. Her ability to stand up for herself and what she wanted is what made her one of my favorite characters.

After fighting their way into the playoffs and making it to the championship game, Dunlop finally meets Anita McCambridge, the owner of the Chiefs. He tries to convince her of the team’s newfound success by adapting to the violent style of play, but she tells him she still plans on folding the team.

Defeated, Dunlop admits to lying to the team about the deal with Florida before the championship game against the Syracuse Bulldogs. He tells the team they should go back to old-time hockey, prioritizing skill over fighting and they agree, realizing they’ve become untalented goons. After making it to the bench, the Chiefs see the Bulldogs loaded up their team with different goons from over the years, ready for a fight.

After taking a beating during the first period, the general manager of the Chiefs, Joe McGrath, scolds them for giving up their new aggressive style of play. McGrath told the team that multiple National Hockey League scouts came to see them play. The chance of signing a major-league contract revved up the Chiefs, and they immediately reverted back to the violence that got them to the championship game.

Everyone on the Chiefs but Braden was brawling with the Bulldogs. He was staring into the crowd when he suddenly saw his wife for the first time in weeks, who was cheering for the vicious display. Braden then decided to join in but instead started stripping off his gear, refusing to partake in the fighting and making the game look absurd in the process. The two teams stopped fighting to watch Braden’s display. A Syracuse player started yelling at a referee to tell him to stop stripping, but he wouldn’t. When the Bulldog player punched the ref, the Chiefs won the championship by default.

When Braden started stripping on the ice I was really confused, but then I realized that was the point. He was making a scene just like the rest of the players, but he did it without compromising his morals. It was silly, and it made the other guys look and feel like idiots for turning into goons. By refusing to fight and doing his own thing, he was able to win the championship for his team and reunite with his wife.

The movie ended with a parade for the Chiefs and Braden reunited with his wife. With the Chiefs still folding, Dunlop was hired to be the coach of the Minnesota Night Hawks and planned to bring players from Charlestown with him.

The language used is crude and could be found offensive, as the movie is outdated. It was the first movie Newman was in that featured him constantly swearing and using foul language. I think the crudeness and the use of slurs play into the stereotype of hockey players being cruel on the ice and saying anything imaginable to rile up their opponents.

I chose this movie because of my passion for hockey, and I thought this was a funny movie that accurately portrayed what the sport is for the most part. There was a minor detail where the home and away jersey colors got flipped which I thought was strange. I’ve also never seen a team have a coach who also plays with their team. Something I thought was funny was the lack of helmets, which weren’t made required in the NHL until the 1979-1980 season. Overall, you can tell the people who made this movie know various things about the sport of hockey.

If you want to give “Slap Shot” a watch, it was recently added to Netflix.

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About the Contributor
Claire Valenti, Sports Writer