February 21, 2007

The Hanson Brothers

Love them or hate them, they need no introduction. They are The Hanson Brothers.

They are fictional characters from the 1977 Paul Newman cult movie hit Slap Shot (Buy the DVD - Amazon.ca or Amazon.com) who on the surface stand for all that is wrong in hockey, namely violence and fighting. Yet they are entertaining, somehow loveable, and without digging too deeply genuinely good guys.

The movie glorifies violence, in a good humoured way, in the low minor leagues. The Charlestown Chiefs are based on the real life Johnstown Jets of the lowly North America Hockey League. Reggie Dunlop, the foul-mouthed coach portrayed by Newman, is based on Long Island Ducks coach John Brophy. And the Hanson Brothers are based on three real life brothers - Steve, Jeff and Jack Carlson, three of five children of an iron ore worker from Virginia, Minnesota.

The book and movie were written by Nancy Dowd, sister of Jets player Ned Dowd. Several of the Jets players expressed interest in trying out for roles in the film. Steve and Jeff Carlson, who early in their career played with the black rimmed glasses, would be cast as Steve and Jeff Hanson, respectively, and would essentially be playing themselves. Dave "Killer" Hanson was cast as Jack "Killer" Carlson after the real Jack Carlson missed filming deadlines. Jack Carlson, easily the best of any of the Jets players, was called up to the WHA Edmonton Oilers for their Avco Cup playoff run.

Here's a clip of the movie courtesy of YouTube:

So just who were the men behind the coke-bottled glasses?

After finishing high school, the three Carlson brothers began an interesting professional journey in Marquette, a prison town on Lake Superior. The Iron Rangers once played an exhibition game against the inmates, believe it or not.

"The convicts weren't as rough as I thought they'd be. I was only 18 at the time, but I remember the guys watching from the stands. They made a lot of noise," said Steve, who in real life was more of a scorer than tough guy. It was his brothers who were the true tough guys.

After one season the trio moved to Johnstown, PA to play for the Jets, all on the same line when healthy. Steve led the team in scoring with 88 points and to the Lockhart championship in year one. Not to be outdone, Jack scored 27 goals in 50 games while sitting out 246 minutes in penalties. Jeff, who tapped in 17 goals of his own, led the team with 250 PIMs, one more than new teammate Dave Hanson.

The NHL and WHA did notice the Jets. The Detroit Red Wings drafted Jack 117th overall and Steve 131st overall in 1975. In 1974, the Minnesota Fighting Saints drafted Steve 102nd overall, Jack 132nd overall, and Hanson, a defenseman from Cumberland, WI, 88th overall. Jeff, a true goon with little else to offer on the ice, was never drafted.

In 1975-76 Jack, nicknamed The Big Bopper, said good bye to Pennsylvania and returned to his native Minnesota to play with the Saints full time. Steve and Jeff would get brief appearances that season as well, with Steve sticking the following season. Hanson would get a look-see in 1976-77 season before catching on with the WHA Birmingham Baby Bulls in 1977-78. The 6'3" 210lb Jeff Carlson earned a hockey living the hard way - by literally fighting for a pay check in the low minor leagues for years to come, retiring in 1983.

Filming of the movie began in 1977, but Jack, briefly a member of the Edmonton Oilers, was busy in the playoffs and unable to film. The film would bring Steve and Jeff closer with Dave Hanson. Soon after the movies release the three were all offered other Hollywood projects, but they refused to give up on their dream of playing in the NHL. All three protagonists would return to hockey. Steve and Dave joined Jack with the New England Whalers, though Hanson would soon leave for Birmingham.

In 1978-79 Jack became the first of our quartet to play in the National Hockey League. Suffering from back and shoulder injuries, the Whalers sent him in a cross-league trade to the Minnesota North Stars.

Jack missed the entire 1979-80 season while recovering from spinal fusion surgery to repair a disc in his back. He would successfully return to play in 236 NHL games with the North Stars and St. Louis Blues, scoring 30 goals. His highlight came in 1981 when the North Stars advanced to the Stanley Cup finals. Jack played in 15 games, including one memorable game against Boston where he set a team record (since broken) with 48 penalty minutes in one game.

1978-79 aslo saw Hanson appear in the NHL, 11 games with Detroit. He would appear in 22 games with Minnesota in 1978-79 before being buried in the minor leagues. He scored 1 goal in his NHL career, 13 in the WHA.

When the WHA collapsed in 1979-80, Steve Carlson got his chance in the NHL. Steve played in 52 games with the Los Angeles Kings, scoring 9 goals and 21 points. He would be released at season's end. He would sign with the North Stars and Penguins organizations, destined to play out his career in the AHL.

Nowadays, Steve, Jeff and Dave travel the world in their now famous Hanson Brothers personas, often attending fund raisers and charity events.


Anonymous said...

Hmmmm...I would hardly describe Marquette as a "prison town", even back then. Beach town - yes, tourist town - yes, hockey town - definitely, but "prison town?" I've been to Marquette and it's beautiful. One wouldn't even know that there is a prison anywhere. Calling Mqt a prison town is like referring to Washington DC as the "National Arboretum Town". Yes, the Arboretum's there...but hardly defines the city.

Kevin aka "yathehabsrule" said...

Isn't one of the Carlson's son's in the Leafs organization?

Anonymous said...

Dave Hanson's son, Christian is in the Maple Leaf organization, currently playing for the Marlies.