The cult hockey movie Slap Shot (1977) has a deep connection with Syracuse and its now historic hockey team, the Syracuse Blazers. In 1976, Paul Newman and the cast of Slap Shot filmed parts of the movie at the Onondaga County War Memorial Arena. Blazers players, coaches, and management played roles in the film and even donned the fictitious Syracuse Bulldog jersey. Dan Belisle, General Manager of the Blazers at the time, “fought” Paul Newman in one of the movie’s many brawls, though Newman’s character Reggie Dunlop appears to get the better of Belisle. In an interview with the Post-Standard’s Sean Kirst, Belisle described the experience,
Director George Roy Hill told both teams to skate around in anticipation of a phony brawl. Belisle, knowing where the cameras would be pointed, headed straight for Newman. The two paired off. Belisle was eventually told to sprawl out on the ice, with fake blood pouring from his mouth, while Newman began punching him in a fight scene that was repeated again and again.
‘I’m lying on my back, and he’s sort of sitting on my chest, and he’s pounding me on my shoulder pads,” Belisle said. ‘After a while, you start to feel that, and then he [Newman] says, “This is hurting my fingers. Do you think you could move those shoulder pads?’
Many players from the North American Hockey League (NAHL) made it into the movie and many more were depicted in the film. In an interview during the National Hockey League’s Winter Classic in 2008, former NHL tough guy Mike Milbury said, “Some people think Slap Shot was fiction. It’s not. The stories are true, they just changed the names to protect the innocent.”
To further iterate Milbury’s point, a book titled, The Making of Slap Shot: Behind the Scenes of the Greatest Hockey Movie Ever, author Jonathon Jackson explains the inspiration for some of the movie’s characters. Jackson says the movie’s writer, Nancy Dowd, used the experiences of her brother Ned Dowd of the Johnstown Jets to help write the film. For starters, the Jets served as the inspiration for the movie’s fictitious Charlestown Chiefs and, as you may have guessed, the Jets players inspired those on the Chiefs. As Jackson explains, many Jets and NAHL players were quick to point out the movie’s striking similarity to their own experiences. Don Hall, the Jets President, says everyone knew the movie was almost entirely the history of Dick Roberge, one of most prolific scorers in minor-professional hockey. “It was about…his life, his divorce, the whole bit.” Dunlop’s character follows similar tribulations throughout the film. Roberge also had a minor cameo in the film as referee who, coincidentally, throws Dunlop out of a game.
There’s no question however, that the movie’s Hanson brothers were based entirely on the Carlson brothers, who all played for the Jets in the 1970s. From the brawls to the black rimmed, coke-bottle glasses, the Carlson brothers were characters even before the filming of Slap Shot, making it an easy decision to cast the brothers to play themselves. However, only two of the brothers, Steve and Jeff, were available to star in the film. The third brother, Jack, was called up by the World Hockey Association’s Edmonton Oilers just prior to shooting. Jack was replaced by Dave Hanson, who, not coincidentally, also played for the Jets and inspired the brothers’ last name in the film – “Hanson.”
This leads us to one of Slap Shot’s most intimidating characters as well as Syracuse’s tough-guy connection: Ogie Ogilthorpe.
Ogie Ogilthorpe was, for all intents and purposes, inspired by Syracuse Blazers’ forward Bill “Goldie” Goldthorpe, one of the most colorful individuals and most feared enforcers in hockey during the rough-and-tumble 1970’s. Ogie is played by Nancy Dowd’s brother, Ned. In an interview with Allan Maki of Canada’s Globe and Mail, Ned disputes some of the claims that the character was entirely based on Goldthorpe,
First of all, my character, Ogie Ogilthorpe, was a compilation of several kinds of people, not Bill Goldthorpe per se. I knew Bill. He’s quite nice, a lovely guy. Is Bill Goldthorpe a part of that compilation? Yes. But to the best of my knowledge, there was never an offer made. I think the thing was we couldn’t get a hold of Bill.
Interestingly enough, Bill Goldthorpe has a different side of that story, which also appeared in the Globe and Mail interview,
Ned Dowd’s full of crap. You want to know why I wasn’t in the movie? They thought I was too wild and I’d beat up Paul Newman. Here’s what happened: Newman’s brother came and saw us play. I was with Binghamton. That night, there had been a fight in the stands in Johnstown and I got charged with assault. In the dressing room, I had a coke bottle and I was so angry I threw it at Paul Stewart [a teammate turned NHL referee] because he wouldn’t shut up. The bottle hit the wall, and at that moment Newman’s brother walked into the room and got Coke all over him. That was it. They thought I was an undesirable.
Despite Ned’s comments, it’s hard to miss the connections, starting with the names: Goldie Goldthorpe and Ogie Ogilthorpe. Next, a side-by-side photo comparison of Bill and Ogie will, well, we’ll let you decide.
So, what made “Wild” Goldie Goldthorpe such an interesting person and player that he helped to inspire the most feared character in the film?
During Goldie’s rookie season (1973-74, the year the Blazers won their first of two North American Hockey League Championships) the Hornepayne, Ontario native had 25 fighting majors in the 29 games before Christmas of 1973. Despite racking up 285 penalty minutes in 55 regular-season games, by season’s end he managed to collect 20 goals and 26 assists; amazing considering most of the time he spent in a Blazers’ sweater was in the penalty box.
Describing his playing, as well as his personal, style, writer Dorian Geiger said, “When Goldthorpe played, his fists did the talking and his bleach blonde afro had the potential to make clowns blush.” But, it was often his off-ice antics that led to Goldthorpe’s legend.
In Slap Shot, while calling out the opening lineup for the Charleston Chief’s game against the Syracuse Bulldogs, there is a partial reference, and joke at Goldthorpe expense, as the announcer calls Ogilthorpe’s entrance on to the ice,
“Oh, gee. Hold the phone. Oh this is an unscheduled surprise. This young man has had a very trying rookie season. What with the litigation, the notoriety, his subsequent deportation to Canada and that country’s refusal to accept him. Well, that’s more than most 21 year olds can handle.”
This was inspired by an incident in Green Bay Wisconsin, when Goldie beat up one of his own teammates. As the rest of his team left for a game in Canada, Goldie was arrested and left behind in Green Bay. According to Jackson’s book, Goldthorpe was eventually hauled off to jail and, the next day, escorted to the border to meet up with his team– “his subsequent deportation to Canada.” A stretch perhaps, but it’s fairly easy to see where the idea may have originated.
Goldthorpe would be arrested 18 more times. This led to a number of comments about Ogilthorpe in the movie inspired by Goldthorpe’s illicit record such as, “He is a criminal element! – The worst goon in hockey today” and “For the sake of the game, they oughta throw him in San Quentin!”
The Goldthorpe references in Slap Shot don’t end there, though some are more loosely based than others and with varying opinions on the subject. For instance, in one scene, the puck is deflected off a player’s stick and is sent flying into the stands. The puck careened so high it hit the arena’s organ player, knocking him out cold. This moment in the movie is said to be motivated by the time Goldie was sent to the penalty box, which infuriated him. Goldie was so mad he picked up a water bottle to throw at an opposing player, only it slipped, knocking out the nearby penalty announcer.
During Goldthorpe’s infamous rookie season, Bob Costas, a Syracuse University alum, became the play-by-play announcer for the Syracuse Blazers after the previous announcer got a job in Cincinnati and recommended Costas. He had no hockey broadcasting experience and explains how he got the job,
“…[the team] didn’t have that much time to be choosey; A) they only had a week and, B) they were only paying 30 dollars a game so they were going to be looking for a young, local guy and I kind of finessed my way into the job.
Costas has talked about his time with the team on multiple occasions and, more specifically, his interactions with Goldthorpe. Costas recalled a few stories, explaining how he wasn’t exactly one of Goldie’s favorite people, which was highlighted by one particular incident on a road trip. During the 1970s, especially in minor hockey leagues across North America, professional athletes often traveled by team bus. On one trip, Goldthorpe saw Costas reading the newspaper and ripped it up in front of him. Costas responded with, “Don’t be jealous, Goldie. I’ll teach you to read.” As the story goes, Goldthorpe’s teammates were the only thing that stood between him and Costas. Below, you can see Bob Costas talk about his time with the team during NBC’s 2008 Winter Classic broadcast:
Despite the continued recognition that Slap Shot stars like Jeff and Steve Carlson receive from the film, Bill Goldthorpe never received much recognition. However, the folk-lore and stories live on. According to the same Globe and Mail interview, “A friend of Goldie’s came up with the idea of recognizing his past by designing a t-shirt. On the front is a picture of a big-haired, angry Goldthorpe and on the back, a list of 18 cities and dates topped by the words, ‘The Bill Goldthorpe North American Jail Tour.’” Rumor has it, Goldthorpe loved the shirt so much he began selling them and donating the money to charity.