The hockey world is putting on the foil and celebrating the 40th anniversary of its favorite film this month.
“Slap Shot,” the comedy about a misfit minor-league hockey team in a struggling steel mill town, has been watched countless times by hockey players and fans. And they, in turn, have quoted its many hilarious — and sometimes raunchy — lines over and over in locker rooms, arena bleachers, on the ice and, of course, in press boxes.
Paul Newman was the star of the movie, but Minnesota’s own Hanson Brothers became the legends.
Dave Hanson of St. Paul and Steve and Jeff Carlson of Virginia were the bespectacled goons of the Charlestown Chiefs who turned hockey fights and cheapshots into an artform:
“Old-time hockey.”
Art was imitating life, though.
A year and a half before the movie’s release, the Hansons, along with the Carlsons’ brother Jack were playing for the Minnesota Fighting Saints of the World Hockey Association, the rival league of the National Hockey League.
Prior to starting their 1975-76 exhibition schedule, the Saints and their top minor-league affiliate, the Johnstown Jets, played an intrasquad game right here in Mankato, before 1,200 people at what was then known as the Mankato Ice Palace — now All Seasons Arena.
Accounts of that game, played on Sept. 27, 1975, read like they were early drafts of the “Slap Shot” script, starting with a bus carrying the mayor of St. Paul and other fans to the game taking an immediate wrong turn out of the Twin Cities and heading north toward Duluth before turning back south. (I wonder if they made it look mean before they left town).
On the ice, there was a fight between Jack Carlson and Fighting Saints star winger Mike “Shakey” Walton that resulted in Walton getting his nose bloodied — perhaps broken — and started a bench-clearing brawl.
Defenseman John Arbour received an intent-to-injury major penalty and a game misconduct for jabbing his stick at Jets wing Gary Gambucci, and Arbour “gestured toward the crowd” as he left the ice to a chorus of boos, according to a story by sports writer John Clinger, who captured the spirit of the thing for The Free Press.
Clinger wrote that St. Paul’s mayor, Larry Cohen, was shocked by what was happening on the ice.
“My God! These guys are animals!” Cohen said. “What are the feeding them?”
The minor leaguers beat the big club 9-6, and the winners got a goal and three assists from rookie center Bruce Boudreau — yes, the very one who's now coaching the Minnesota Wild.
“That wasn’t hockey,” said Ted Hampson, a veteran player for the Saints. “It’s too bad kids have to see something like this.”
In his book, “Slap Shot Original: The Man, The Foil, The Legend,” Dave Hanson described the game this way:
“By the time the game was over, Jack Carlson broke Mike Walton’s nose, and Jeff Carlson, Bill Butters, me, and a few others had brutally pounded the other team, and we won the game.”
Hanson wrote that Fighting Saints coach Harry Neale was presented with a key to the city by Mankato’s mayor during the ceremonial puck drop before the game. “Afterward, Harry was so upset that we had hammered his star players that he slammed open our locker room door and threw the key at us, yelling, ‘Here ya go, you bums!’”
Hanson wrote that he and the Carlsons (who, by the way, were high school teammates with Minnesota State women's hockey coach John Harrington) were sent to the minors the next day.
Neale was a little more diplomatic about that group with The Free Press, especially considering the three Carlsons had two goals and four assists combined that night.
“We’ve wondered if they will ever all be ready at the same time,” Neale said. “They played like it tonight. They wouldn’t have to play many games before they’d be the most popular players in town.”
Little did he realize just how popular they would be.
Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Call him at 507-344-6373 or email him at Follow him on Twitter @puckato.

Johnstown (NAHL) 9 vs. Minnesota 6 @ Mankato, MN 9/27/1975

Jack Carlson (J) vs. Mike Walton (M)

Jack Carlson, meanwhile, got into a fight with Saints star Mike Walton, leaving Walton with a bloody nose. The Saints, with most of the younger candidates on the big club tonight, will play Indianapolis at Schererville, Ind., in the first exhibition game of the season.

Minnesota 4 @ Indianapolis 3 9/28/1975

Paul Holmgren (M) vs. Eric Sanderson (I)

Jeff Carlson (M) vs. Kim Clackson (I) (no penalties in box score)

There wer 94 minutes in penalties in the game, during which the Saints’ Jeff Carlson and Kim Clackson of the Racers were given game misconducts. Clackson got the better of the fight against Carlson, but Saints players won split decisions on most of the other bouts.

Saints Will Try to Cool Emotions for Tonight’s Game

The biggest question for the Fighting Saints’ only home exhibition game, tonight at 7:30 against New England in the Civic Center, is if Coach Harry Neale can bring them down a little from their emotional peak of last weekend.

Neale explains the extremes in hockey players as talent and enthusiasm. All players have some or both, but generally the older player depend on talent and the younger ones try to overcompensate with enthusiasm while they develop and season their talent.

The emotional peak was not in Sunday night’s 4-2 exhibition win against Indianapolis. The peak was Saturday night in a so-called intrasquad game before a sellout crowd at Mankato, Minn. It was a peak from which the club actually seemed drained for its Indianapolis game.

It seems the enthusiasts were assigned to Johnstown (the Saints’ farm club) while the talent made up the Saints. “It’s a good thing we were in Mankato,” Neale said. If we were at the Civic Center, we would have had to keep the Johnstown team and send down the Saints.”

Johnstown beat the Saints 9-6. That wasn’t the half of it. Early in the going, a scuffle developed along the boards. The Carlson Connection-brothers Jack, Steve, and Jeff-was on for Johnstown. Jack arrived late, as did Saints star Mike Walton. Walton, who has a fiery temper of his own, wound up squaring off with Jack. It was a one-punch affair. Jack threw it. Walton will miss tonight’s game because his broken nose is being set today.

At any rate, led by the Carlson Connection play, the Jets led the Saints 3-0 very quickly. About then, Saints defenseman John Arbour tried to spear Jets’ center Gary Gambucci. He missed the first time, but flagrantly got him the second. Gambucci, a flyweight in hockey fights, threw down his stick and gloves and went after the burly Arbour. Inexplicably, Arbour would not drop his stick and fended Gambucci off with it. Pat Westrum, a Jets defenseman that night but one who appears certain to make the big club, led a charge from the bench that included the Carlsons, Dave Hanson, Paul Holmgren, and enough enthusiastic beef to tilt the rink.

Neale added that the club seems drained Sunday night, although that is not to say everything was unemotional. Indianapolis has two young enthusiasts named Eric Sanderson (6-foot-5, 220 pounds) and Kim Clackson (a stocky 200 pounder). Sanderson and Holmgren had a lively scrap, about a draw according to Neale. Clackson, in preliminary reports, was listed as a clear winner over Jeff Carlson. General Manager Glen Sonmor protested that decision.

“As fights go,” Sonmor said, “it was an all-timer. I’m not saying anybody won because both of them snapped the other’s head with punches. But when it was over, everybody was on their hands and knees. I thought they were looking for a contact lens.” Turns out they were looking for a couple of Clackson’s teeth, which Bill Butters of the Saints located and handed to the Indianapolis rookie-undoubtedly with thinly veiled delight.

“I was thinking,” Sonmor said, “if the only fights we ‘lose’ this year end up with the other team looking for teeth, we shouldn’t have to worry much.”

October 8, 1975

Holmgren Sent to Johnstown as Saints Cut Three

The Minnesota Fighting Saints Tuesday sent prized rookies Paul Holmgren from the University of Minnesota and Bruce Boudreau from Toronto to their Johnstown, PA farm club in the North American Hockey League.

Cleveland 8 @ Minnesota 4 10/15/1975

Jack Carlson (M) vs. Russ Walker (C) 8:20

Curt Brackenbury (M) vs. Danny Gruen (C) 14:19

Bench Clearing Brawl @ 26:49

Jack Carlson (M) double minor, misconduct, game misconduct 26:49

Jim Harrison (C) major, game misconduct 26:49

Steve Carlson (M) major, game misconduct 26:49

Paul Baxter (C) minor, game misconduct 26:49

Curt Brackenbury (M) major, game misconduct 26:49

Gerry Pinder (C) major, game misconduct 26:49

Before that, though, the lengthy brawl had littered the ice with gloves, sticks and bodies, and the dressing room with messy players. The whole thing started at 6:49, when Saints center Steve Carlson tried to cut around Harrison in the right corner of Cleveland’s zone. His stick caught Harrison on the top of the head and Harrison sprawled. Play continued.

After many seconds, Harrison realized that he wasn’t getting any sympathy from referr Ron Asseltine, and he leaped up to make an enraged rush across the ice at the Minnesota bench. He was looking for Steve Carlson, but he found instead Jack Carlson, who accommodated his desires. Jack Carlson had come off the bench, however, and everybody followed, from both sides.

Discerning the main events from the mere grappling matches became Asseltine’s biggest chore. He performed admirably, sending Steve and Jack Carlson and Curt Brackenbury to the showers for Minnesota, and Harrison, Gerry Pinder and Paul Baxter-who had come out of the penalty box to join the fun-for Cleveland. He tacked on a minor to goalie Cheevers, who cruised around tossing punches at several Saints already in fights, and to Mike Curran, who left the Minnesota net in search of Cheevers