By Mike Mastovich
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Bill Kohan heard the Hanson Brothers were coming, so he headed to Cambria County War Memorial on Saturday night.
Actually, there’s more to the story.
Kohan, 41, resides in Atlanta with his wife Paula. Both are former Johnstown residents.
“We flew in Thursday,” said Kohan, wearing an ECHL Gwinnett Gladiators ballcap and a big smile. “As soon as I heard the Hansons were going to be here, I called my sister and she got the tickets for us.”
Paula Kohan explained that her husband is a huge “Slap Shot” fan and collects sports cards and memorabilia. On Saturday he carried a bag stuffed with a Steve (Carlson) Hanson bobblehead doll and other items he hoped to have signed by night’s end.
“He’s had that bobblehead for so long and he always wanted to get it signed,” Paula Kohan, 36, said. “He always wanted to see the Hansons.”
The Kohans weren’t alone.
A sellout crowd of 3,844 packed the arena for the Chiefs game against the Wheeling Nailers.
The Hansons lined up for a ceremonial opening face-off, wiped out a referee impersonator, then took down Wheeling’s goalie (who actually was Chiefs emergency goaltender Brian Gratz in a Nailers jersey) before Steve blasted a puck into the open net.
After the antics, the infamous movie brothers who wear blue and gold Charlestown Chiefs jerseys No. 16, 17 and 18 signed autographs behind Section 9 for hours.
This was a typical appearance for the Hansons, who remain hugely popular in their cult legend roles nearly 30 years after the Paul Newman movie “Slap Shot” was released in 1977.
“It’s a classic movie that depicts minor league hockey at that time in a fun, entertaining way,” said Wheeling radio broadcaster Ned Bowden prior to the game. “Guys who play today can relate to it on some level. Any of these guys who grew up playing the sport have seen the movie.”
Over and over again.
“I’ve seen it many times,” Bowden said. “You have to see it at least once a year every hockey season.”
Even those who are too young to watch the R-rated movie are curious about the Hansons.
“Not yet,” 14-year-old Autumn Miller said when asked if she saw “Slap Shot.”
An eighth-grade student at Conemaugh Township, Miller still wanted to catch the zany brothers’ act.
“They’re goofy and they like to do silly things,” Miller said. “And it’s cool to see former players come back.”
Miller’s friend Kelly McConnell has seen “Slap Shot.”
“My mom was in the movie,” McConnell, 14, said of Teresa (Kohler) McConnell. “She was a Bluebird in the movie. We have the movie. I think the Hansons are pretty cool.”
The Hansons actually are based on the real-life Johnstown Jets brothers Steve, Jeff and Jack Carlson. The Carlsons and teammate Dave “Killer” Hanson helped the 1974-75 Jets win the NAHL playoff championship.
That memorable season provided the basis for Nancy Dowd’s screenplay for “Slap Shot.” Her brother, Ned Dowd, played for the Jets.
When the movie was being filmed in Johnstown in 1976, Jack Carlson was playing for the Minnesota Fighting Saints.
Dave Hanson filled in for Jack. The brothers’ surname was changed to Hanson for the movie.
In another twist, actor Jerry Houser took on the role of Dave “Killer” Carlson.
Newman and Michael Ontkean were stars, but the Hansons stole scenes and became cult heroes along the way.
In the mid-1990s, almost on a whim, the Hansons reprised their roles for a charity event at a minor league game in Memphis, Tenn.
After signing autographs for hours – even after the game ended – the Hansons realized they were onto something.
A decade later, they still tour various rinks and make appearances. They were in “Slap Shot II: Breaking the Ice.”
“It just continues to be phenomenal and a phenomenon,” Dave Hanson said. “After ‘Slap Shot’ came out … Your fan base is larger now than it was five years after the movie came out. It continues to grow.
“It won’t die. I coach 13 year olds. I come across players who know me from the movie. With them and their parents and grandparents, it’s like three generations. The popularity continues to grow.”