Slap Shot star Yvon Barrette is in town for this weekend's SPCA Fore for Pets Celebrity Golf Tournament. Barrette, who played Denis Lemieux in the George Roy Hill hockey comedy appeared at TNT Trucks and Toys on Wednesday for a meet and greet with fans. Herald photo by Andrew Schopp
When he was handed the script in 1977, Francophone actor Yvon Barrette never imagined Slap Shot would become a cult classic.
Born in Alma, Que., Barrette portrayed Charlestown Chiefs goaltender Denis Lemieux in the George Roy Hill hockey comedy, which the 67-year-old actor calls, “a happy accident.”
“At first people were offended by the language in the movie,” Barrett said of the film’s popularity at an appearance at TNT Trucks and Toys on Wednesday. “From 1977 to 2000, it was quiet.”
Since playing Lemieux in the film, Barrette has made appearances throughout the world as he visits Saskatchewan for the first time to participate in this weekend’s SPCA Fore for Pets Celebrity Golf Tournament.
Barrette said that wherever he goes, he is asked to recite various lines from the film such as, “Who own the Chiefs?” where in Germany he laughed, it’s “Wem gehört der Chefs?”
“As soon as they know I am Denis Lemieux, the lines come out,” he said. “The voice doesn’t change so it’s easy for me to bring them back to the feeling of Slap Shot.”
Starring legendary actor Paul Newman as aging hockey veteran Reg Dunlop, Slap Shot tells the story of the Chiefs, a down and out hockey team on the brink of folding in the midst of another losing season in the “Federal League.”
The Chiefs were on the edge of leaving the fictional town of Charlestown forever before the team’s owner brought in the Hansons; a trio of slot-car-loving brothers who propel the team into the win column with their penchant for violence and on-ice shenanigans.
When casting for the film, the producers auditioned more than 500 people in Montreal, seeking “a short, squat, French Canadian” to portray the Chiefs starting goaltender, Barrette said.
Barrett explained how after the film’s casting crew saw him in one of his other films, they gave him a call to come out to Montreal to audition for the character, who Barrett said is “a big part of myself.”
“I received a call asking if I would like to make a movie with Paul Newman,” Barrett explained. “I said ‘sure, why not.’ The same day I made it to Montreal, I read the script and I auditioned around midnight doing the opening scene in the movie.”
Barrette’s character is the first Chief to appear on screen, as he sits down with hockey broadcaster Jim Carr to discuss the finer points of hockey in the movie’s opening scene.
The screenplay for Slap Shot was written by Nancy Dowd and is based on her brother Ned’s experience playing minor hockey for the Johnstown Jets in the Eastern Amateur Hockey League.
Near the end of the film, Ned Dowd portrays Ogie Ogilthorpe, a player for the Syracuse Bulldogs whose near-criminal behavior on the ice led to his “subsequent deportation to Canada and that country’s refusal to accept him.”
The Ogilthorpe character was heavily based on real-life minor league tough guy Bill Goldthorpe, who in 39 games with the San Diego Hawks of the Pacific Hockey League, tallied a total of 267 penalty minutes in 1979.
While the film portrays rampant scenes of on-ice violence, including one where the Hanson brothers jump over the glass to engage with rowdy fans, Barrette explained how the intent of the picture was not to glorify violence in hockey, but to poke fun at it.
“(Ned Dowd) invited Nancy to see what was happening on that team with the violence,” he said. “It was written at first to bring violence to a stupid point, we have to stop it.”
Since its release more than 37 years ago, Slap Shot has exploded in popularity with Chiefs sweaters and other merchandise flying off shelves across the world.
In 2002 and 2008, Slap Shot sequels were released. Barrette has never seen Slap Shot 2: Breaking the Ice or Slap Shot 3: The Junior League and he has no intention of doing so.
He explained how although the sequels feature the original Hanson brothers; Steve Carlson, Jeff Carlson and Dave Hanson, none of the other cast members from the first film were asked to appear with them.
“I wasn’t happy with them when they did Slap Shot 2 without inviting the other actors from the first one,” he said of the Hansons. “Despite that, we have fun when we meet.”
The Hanson brothers, along with several others in the film, played fictional versions of themselves, as many of the actors in Slap Shot were real-life hockey players.
Barrette said the film’s eclectic cast of trained actors and hockey players-turned thespians, made for great chemistry in the fictional locker room.
“We were a bunch of nobodies working hard to make a movie,” he said. “We worked very hard, long days, six days a week. We were close, we became brothers.”
When asked if a reboot of the increasingly popular film is in the cards, Barrette said that he thinks some things are better left untouched.
“We should keep it as it is.”