Editor’s note: Travis Barrett of the Kennebec Journal is ranking his top 10 sports movies of all-time. No. 9 on the list is “Slap Shot,” a 1997 film starring Paul Newman as ‘Reggie Dunlop,’ a player/coach for the fictional Charlestown Chiefs hockey team. It can be streamed via Amazon.

No film has ever been more synonymous with the sport it depicts than “Slap Shot.”

The 1977 film directed by George Roy Hill and starring Paul Newman as Reggie Dunlop, the washed up player/coach of the failing fictitious Charlestown Chiefs, is often slapstick comedy at its finest and produces some of the most memorable hockey scenes in the entire history of sports filmmaking.

Think about how many times you’ve heard somebody in a hockey rink somewhere muse over a penalty call on the ice and mutter, “You go to the box, you feel shame.”

That’s “Slap Shot.”

Think of the bespectacled Hanson brothers, the dum-dum trio of goons who to this day still make celebrity appearances at all levels of the game. They are icons of ice hockey, despite being completely fictional characters.

Of course, there’s something non-fiction about so much of “Slap Shot,” too.

There’s the weird bond formed by teams — both good and bad — across the game. There’s the cramped hotel rooms, the beer and the constant pursuit of the opposite sex. Think it’s unique to “Slap Shot?” Think again. Even “Miracle,” starring Kurt Russell as Herb Brooks leading the United States to the gold medal at the 1980 Winter Olympics, features scenes with bars, beers and players bantering back and forth about women while on the bench during a game overseas.

“Slap Shot” might best be remembered for its wild characters and crazy fighting scenes — which, to be fair, was what the world thought of when it thought of minor league hockey in the 1970s and 1980s — as well as the myriad of one-liners littered across 123 minutes of screen time.

But the film is more than that, too.

The magic of “Slap Shot” comes in its very real illustration of life in hockey locker rooms and what life is like for players — whether they are the aging veteran facing a future without the game, the young star player finding that the lower levels of the professional game caring not about what kind of numbers he put up in college, or one of the various role players and what they’re willing to put into the game for very little reward beyond the satisfaction of a good shift. It’s all there and, after more than two decades covering the game myself at all levels from high school to the National Hockey League, it’s rings incredibly true.

“Slap Shot,” though, isn’t even my favorite hockey movie of all-time. There are problems with it, despite its status as a sports movie icon — and certainly if such a thing existed, “Slap Shot” would likely find itself of the Mount Rushmore of sports movies.

One of the glaring issues with the film, particularly when looking at it through a lens some four decades after its making, is how dated it is. Sure, the rinks and the sticks and the small towns and the lack of helmets and the brawling are important pieces that lend “Slap Shot” veracity — but capturing a time period and being dated are two distinct entities. Many of the gags are racist and sexist, and today they never would have made it beyond the cutting room floor.

Another problem with the film is its length. Most comedies are challenged to run beyond 90 minutes with any success. Jokes lose luster when it’s the same punchline over and over — the pun certainly intended in this case, given that at its core “Slap Shot” is about a team succeeding by giving the fans what they want (fighting) over what the players want (the purity of the game). “Slap Shot” can’t decide if it’s a comedy or a drama, and the plot points involving Dunlop facing the end of his playing days, Ned and Lily Braden’s marital struggles and the business of hockey winning out over the game itself are all strong — if not a bit of a bore given the slapstick nature of the rest of the film.

The part I like least about “Slap Shot,” and why it only occupies a cursory spot on my Top 10 list, is the ending. I’ve never been able to rectify a playoff game — and championship game, at that — being thrown out by on-ice officials because it got too violent. And, yes, the comedic violence reaches a level that is more tedious than it is satisfying after more than two hours of seeing hockey players slug it out for ticket office success. Throw in Ned Braden’s striptease of an ice dance to complement it and it goes from funny, to weird, to absurd in a matter of minutes. It’s all wrapped up with a ticker-tape parade to celebrate a championship that was never even really “won.”

As a sports nerd, a sports writer and someone who has made a life dissecting winning and losing, the whole culmination of the film falls flat for me.

But even the deficits “Slap Shot” has aren’t enough to dull its collective edge. The one-liners are barbed, the characters are indelible to the game of hockey itself and the film still holds cultural status that even expansion teams would kill to have.

As Charlestown Chiefs goalie Denis Lemieux does himself in the brilliant opening scene, “Slap Shot” covers all the finer points of the game of hockey.


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