JOHNSTOWN, Pa. -- There is a legendary Hollywood story about the making of “All The Right Moves,” a classic teen sports movie that came out in 1983. The lead actors, Tom Cruise and Lea Thompson, were both in their early 20s at the time, but the producers wanted them to get a refresher course in being teenagers before filming.
So Thompson and Cruise were secretly enrolled at local high schools to go to class and get the feel of being a student once again. Cruise, who only had one movie to his credit at the time, was recognized within a matter of hours, but Thompson lasted three days in her “role” before filming began.
“All The Right Moves” takes place in Ampipe, Pa., a fictional down-on-its-luck mill town in western Pennsylvania where the boys dream of football stardom as a vehicle to a college education and a better life. The producers found the perfect locale in the early spring of 1983 in Johnstown, which in many ways mirrored the imaginary Ampipe from the film.
Point Stadium, so named because it sits on a spit of land where the Stony Creek and Little Conemaugh rivers meet, was one of the primary filming locations for the movie, which shows a gritty and ultimately inspiring vision of small-town life in the region that gave us football stars like Joe Montana, Tony Dorsett, Mike Ditka and Jason Taylor.
Cruise is the main character, a high school senior who is talented on the football field and in the classroom, hoping to earn a football scholarship to an engineering school where he can get a degree and rise above the factory careers of his father and older brother. There are notable bumps in the road along the way, most notably a dispute with his coach -- played by Craig T. Nelson before he coached the fictional Minnesota State Screaming Eagles on television -- which threatens to derail his hopes for a better future.
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A few years before the “All The Right Moves” movie crew came to Johnstown, the community served as the gritty industrial town backdrop for an even more legendary sports film that, four decades later, is quoted word for word in hockey arenas worldwide.
"Who own da Chiefs?"
Nancy Dowd was out of film school at UCLA by the time her brother Ned was playing minor league hockey for the Johnstown Jets, who were members of the Eastern Hockey League. The hockey was gritty, to put it mildly, and Nancy wrote an unflinching, comedic screenplay based on her brother's tales of locker room banter, on-ice fights and off-ice hijinks while playing for a team in a struggling mill town, where hockey provided an escape from real life for the fans.
By the time “Slap Shot” made it to the big screen, many names had been changed to protect the not-exactly-innocent. The Johnstown Jets became the Charlestown Chiefs. The trio of Minnesota brothers known for their on-ice goonery, the Carlson brothers, became the Hanson brothers, and notorious glove-dropper Bill “Goldie” Goldthorpe was renamed Ogie Ogilthorpe, and was played by Ned Dowd himself in the movie.
The Cambria County War Memorial Arena, a 4,000-seat rink in the heart of Johnstown which is still used by the Johnstown Tomahawks of the NAHL today, was the primary filming location for “Slap Shot.” In the movie, player-coach Reg Dunlop (played by Paul Newman) learns that the team will fold when the local mill closes, and lies to his players, convincing them that a mysterious community in Florida will buy and relocate the team there. His tall tales, and the addition of the Hanson brothers to a mediocre lineup, suddenly have the Chiefs fighting, winning and selling out their rink on the way to the climactic league title game.
“Slap Shot” has become such a cult classic that hockey fans still come to Johnstown to see some of the sights, most notably the arena and the downtown streets where the final championship parade scenes were filmed. There is no formal “Slap Shot" tour offered by the community, and some feel that is a missed opportunity.
“I think the town has sold itself short. ‘Slap Shot’ is still one of the best sports films. It’s rough, but it’s a masterpiece,” said Richard Burkert, president of the Johnstown Area Heritage Association. “Everyone in Johnstown talks about how Canadians love ‘Slap Shot’ and they’d come visit if we could develop something ... Supposedly half of Canada would make its way to Johnstown.”