How a Former Pro Hockey Player Chilled with Paul Newman and Landed a Cameo in 'Slap Shot'
We spoke to Bob Jones, who had a cup of coffee in the NHL and the cult classic film "Slap Shot"—which was released 40 years ago.
Screenshot via YouTube
Bob Jones may not have been a household name, but he had a better hockey career than most can hope for.
After a successful tour of the junior ranks with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey Association (now the OHL), he went on to play in the Western Hockey League (WHL) and the American Hockey League (AHL). Then, midway through the 1968-69 season, he got the call that every young hockey player dreams of—he was going to the NHL.
Although Jones would only suit up in two games for the New York Rangers, he made it to the pinnacle of professional hockey. After his brief stint on Broadway, Jones was back in the AHL, the WHL, and later found himself playing in the upstart World Hockey Association, the NHL's rival competitor in the mid-1970s.
But the most interesting stopover of Jones' career may have been his final seasons with the North American Hockey League (NAHL), which just so happened to be the league that served as the inspiration for the movie Slap Shot.
How does Jones rank the film's portrayal of the game as he knew it? "Nothing I saw ever captured the game better the way it was being played at the time than that movie. Those things all happened, at a time when hockey was played in a very brutal, punishing way," he told VICE Sports.
If anyone is qualified to say that, it's Jones. Not only did he play in the NAHL, but he also had a minor role in Slap Shot. You may not remember uncredited Broome County Blade player #5, but that was Jones, and 40 years later, he still remembers his brief brush with fame on the set during the making of the iconic film.
While Jones was having a career year with Syracuse of the NAHL in 1974-75, it just so happened that he was squaring off against Ned Dowd of Johnstown. During his time with the Jets, it was well known that Ned had been keeping a journal about his time in the league. It was that diary, and his experiences, that would inform much of his older sister Nancy's screenplay.
At the end of that season, Jones finished with 114 points and won the league scoring title. Unbeknownst to him was, that around the same time, Nancy Dowd was penning Slap Shot. The following year, when Jones was with the NAHL's Mohawk Valley Comets, he and four of his teammates were approached by their general manager for roles in a hockey film that was shooting in the area. As Jones recalls, Slap Shot director, George Roy Hill, had sent Paul Newman's brother out to the NAHL to scout for extras. "[Arthur] this tall, bald-headed guy, who looked nothing like Paul Newman, went to the coach and manager and said, 'I need the roughest, toughest looking guys you have.' And that's how I was chosen," recalled Jones.
So with Mohawk Valley's season in the books, Jones and four of his teammates headed out for filming in Johnstown, New York. The only snag was, that at the time, Jones and one of his teammates, Bob O'Reilly, were still under contract with the Indianapolis Racers of the WHA, and the team was in the playoffs. While they hadn't suited up for any games yet, serving only as the Black Aces thus far, O'Reilly was worried about missing the postseason. Luckily, the Racers' general manager understood this was an incredible opportunity and told his players to hit the road; he'd call them if they were needed. Indianapolis ended up getting eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, and Jones wound up having the experience of a lifetime.
For the next five days he was pampered with catered meals, got an extra $500 stuffed in his wallet, and got to rub shoulders with the great Paul Newman. Of course, Newman played the film's protagonist, Reggie Dunlop, the player-coach of the Charlestown Chiefs. Jones recalled how friendly and engaging Newman was on set. "He came and talked with us and drank beer with us. He just wanted to soak up as much as he could to make his role believable," he said.
Jones and his crew certainly did their part to make the Hollywood star feel like he was part of the team. Newman got the full treatment, including all the classic hockey locker-room hijinks. Jones recalled one incident where they put clear sock tape over the bottom of Newman's blades before he hit the ice. Sure enough, as soon as he cleared the boards and his feet touched down, Butch Cassidy was on his backside.
Although Jones' screen time may have been less than ten seconds combined, he couldn't have found himself in a more iconic sequence of the film. He was a member of the Broome County Blades, the team that Dunlop first unleashed the full fury of the infamous Hanson brothers against.
His debut happened to be the scene where Steve Hanson (No. 17) throws himself over the Blades' net in attempt to try to decapitate Jones' character. "That took, believe it or not, a whole afternoon to film what amounted to five seconds in the picture. That sort of amazed me," said Jones.
In another scene, Jones and his fictional teammates once again felt the brunt of the Hanson brothers.
As Steve skates by the opposing bench, he extends his stick across the heads of Broome County's players and personnel. According to Jones, "that was another thing that took a long time because everybody kept ducking and they didn't want you to do that, but that frigging rubber stick, on the side of the face, hurt!"
And just like that, Jones' silver screen career was over. By February 1977, when Slap Shot hit theatres, Jones had retired from hockey and was visiting his wife's family in Buffalo. His father-in-law happened to remember that the film was set for release that weekend and cajoled his son-in-law to check it out. Jones was initially reticent, figuring that the filmmakers would get it wrong, and that whatever they put up on the screen certainly wouldn't resemble the hockey he had played. But upon exiting the theatre, he was happy to be proven wrong.
"It was unbelievable. I couldn't believe it, everything in that movie actually happened," he recalled. Well, almost everything. Jones certainly doesn't remember a striptease on ice in the NAHL, but line brawls? You bet. Fights in warm up? You better believe it. Players afraid to go over the boards during a game? Definitely.
Forty years later, Jones still ranks Slap Shot as the best hockey film he's ever seen, and you'd be hard pressed to find many who would disagree. "People are still quoting lines from that movie. How many films would like to be able to say that?" he said.
For many, Slap Shot has entered into the realm of cult status. Moreover, despite unquestionably being a hockey flick, it still holds up as one of the best comedies of its era.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of this film, "Get out there on the ice and let 'em know you're there."