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They brought their #$&*@ toys again for Slap Shot 2

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Eight years after overcoming cancer and four years after his initial retirement to the boardroom, Mario Lemieux shed his corporate suit and skated back onto the ice this winter, leading his Penguins into the Stanley Cup playoffs, bringing fans to their feet, reducing grown men to tears and prompting a certain Washington Wizards executive to re-evaluate his career plans. His return left lumps in the throat so large that his fans look as if they swallowed hockey pucks.

Charlestown Chiefs
The following for the Charlestown Chiefs has grown since "Slap Shot" was released in 1977.

Lemieux's return, however, is not hockey's most significant comeback this year. That honor belongs to the three geeks with the taped-up horn-rimmed glasses, aluminum foil and model racing cars. The guys their coach took one look at and declared, "These guys are retards."

Yes, the Hanson brothers are back on the ice. Twenty-four years after the Charlestown Chiefs skated their way into cinema and hockey history, the three Hansons (or brothers Jeff and Steve Carlson and Dave Hanson as they are known in real life) are in Vancouver finishing up filming on "Slap Shot 2."

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

"They've been talking about a sequel almost since the day after 'Slap Shot' was released," Dave Hanson said during a break on the set recently. "Universal wanted to sign the three of us to a seven-figure movie contract but our aspirations were to play hockey, not be in movies. There have been a lot of attempts to do a 'Slap Shot' sequel.

"The question everybody always asks is, 'When's the sequel? When's the sequel?' And we'd always say, 'Soon, soon, soon.' "

Soon is finally now, though Paul Newman and the rest of the original cast are not involved with the sequel. This is a small budget production starring Stephen Baldwin as the player/coach of the Chiefs, who have been reduced to performing as nightly losers (á la the Washington Generals) to a Harlem Globetrotters-like hockey team owned by Gary Busey.

"Slap Shot 2" not only lacks the three Academy Award winners involved with the original (Newman, director George Roy Hill and screenwriter Nancy Dowd) it has Hollywood's three most dreaded words (next to, "starring Paulie Shore") attached to it -- direct to video.

At least for the moment. Producer Ron French holds out hope that once Universal sees the finished project, the studio will release it theatrically. One way or the other, look for it either late next fall or in early 2002.

When French tells friends he is making the sequel to "Slap Shot," half say how excited they are that the film finally is being made. The other half warns him, "You better not screw this up."

That's because the original is a beloved cult classic, beginning with the very first scene where the French Canadian goaltender explains the game's finer points for a TV audience, including how the penalty box works. "Two minutes by yourself ... and you feel shame ... and then you get free."

Best sports movies
Jim Caple's Top 10 sports movies:

1. Rocky
2. Raging Bull
3. Bull Durham
4. Chariots of Fire
5. Slap Shot
6. Hoosiers
7. Heaven Can Wait
8. Field of Dreams
9. The Bad News Bears
10. That Championship Season
"I think minor-league buses come with a copy of 'Slap Shot' (as standard equipment)," said Shawn Snesar, a former minor-leaguer with a small role. "I think everyone who plays can recite the movie from start to finish. It's great to be a part of. Everyone I played with will see this. Everyday I say, I can't believe I'm in the sequel to 'Slap Shot.' "

Like baseball's "Bull Durham," "Slap Shot" has the funny and extraordinary stories of minor-league sports. But the characters and incidents (well, most of them) felt real, mostly because they were. Dowd (who won an Oscar for "Coming Home") based the story on her brother's experiences with the Johnstown Chiefs and the Carlson brothers.

"A lot of it was true," says Steve Carlson, who played in the NHL briefly. "We did go into the stands and get arrested. That was in Utica. And we did jump a guy during warmups.

"It's not fictional characters and we're just playing the roles. It's what we really did. It's what really happened. It's part of our lives."

So much so that the three regularly travel together to appear as Hanson brothers, appearing in beer commercials and inspiring a line of replica jerseys and action figures. Signing them for "Slap Shot 2" required nothing more than a phone call.

"The Hansons were more important to have than Newman," French said. "It's absolutely amazing. You can imagine 'Slapshot 2' without Newman, but you can't imagine it without the Hansons. For an audience, what are the key things that trigger you to pay eights bucks? The Hansons. They're what draw people in."

That's convenient for French to say because there is no way Newman was going to go within Zamboni range of this project. But he's also right. When people talk about the original, the first thing they mention are those goofy Hansons. Their glasses, their hair, their fights, the slot cars they brought on road trips.

Paul Newman
Don't expect to see Reggie Dunlop (Paul Newman) back on the ice in "Slap Shot 2."
But the Hansons won't be nearly enough to make "Slap Shot 2" work unless the rest of the story is as compelling and witty as the original. Filming sequels is a risky business as Jar-Jar Binks can attest. Few live up to the original in general, but particularly so in the sport genre, where there has never been a sequel of any worth (I'm thinking "The Bad News Bears Go to Japan," "Caddyshack 2" and all the "Rocky" sequels). The straight-to-video thing is not a good sign.

French says the film will have the comic and dramatic elements of the original (Baldwin's character is a player-coach with some "issues"), plus its low-angle hockey action. "I don't think we could move forward if we keep looking back all the time," French said. "But we keep the original in mind."

"Godfather II" or "D2: Mighty Ducks," the Hansons say they are unconcerned. They say the sequel is going well and that, good or lousy, it won't affect the way fans regard the original.

Meanwhile, many in the cast and crew are hockey nuts, who spent their breaks one day watching the Canucks playoff game and are just honored to be somehow associated with "Slap Shot."

"We'll see how the movie turns out, but being in this could rank right up there with the Stanley Cup," says former NHL veteran defenseman Dave Babych, who has a small role a player. "It's not like we're going after an Academy Award. But you never know. As long as people enjoy it."

Jim Caple is a senior writer for

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