Over the course of his hockey-playing days, Dave Hanson played 33 NHL games, starred in a movie that’s made him into a cult legend and saw the world – OK, maybe North America more than the world – all because of what he could do on a pair of skates.
But nothing the 54-year-old Slap Shot mainstay has done on the ice made him happier than who he is today – the proud father of the newest member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“Having your son fulfill his dream is a father’s delight,” said Hanson, referring to his son, Christian, who agreed to a two-year entry level contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs Tuesday morning. “Especially in light of him having a tough challenge ahead of him – not being drafted; wearing that ‘Hanson’ name on the back of his sweater. That’s a challenge in itself.”
As his father alluded to, Christian Hanson wasn’t selected by any NHL team, but rather than wallowing in the misery that comes with showing up for a draft and walking away empty-handed, the 23-year-old improved every year while playing center for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. In this, his senior year, he became one of the most highly sought-after unrestricted free agent prospects on the market.
“(The draft) was certainly one of the low points for him, because all the indications we received leading up to the draft were that he’d be drafted somewhere in the middle rounds,” Dave Hanson said. “And then as we sat there at the draft with NHL Productions filming this all over Christian’s shoulder, we got to the final round and just hoped that somebody would take him.
“When that didn’t happen, it was really disturbing for him and our family. But to his credit, he took it as a challenge. He said he really had his work cut out for him and had to show somebody else what he could do. That’s just what he did. And it couldn’t be any better for him to go to Toronto.”
That self-set bar wasn’t the first Christian Hanson had to clear on his way to the pros.
After Christian was recruited by then-Notre Dame coach Dave Poulin, Poulin left the program and was replaced by Jeff Jackson. Despite the unexpected change, things worked out for the best.
“Jeff Jackson just changed the entire culture and made it tough on Christian, but also helped make Christian into the player he is today,” Dave Hanson said.
The new Leafs management team of GM Brian Burke and coach Ron Wilson has provided some of their young talent with a small taste of what it’s like to play in the NHL – and that trend is likely to continue with Christian Hanson, his father said.
“I think their plan is to get him up there, get him on the ice and practicing with the (Leafs)…and then get him into the lineup against Philly on Friday,” the senior Hanson said. “I think they want to throw him to the wolves right away and see how he deals with it.”
Asked to provide a father’s scouting report on his boy, the always-affable Hanson was happy to comply.
“He has that hockey sense that’s important and isn’t necessarily something that’s taught – you either have it or you don’t,” Dave said of Christian. “But his skill set is good; I think people in Toronto will see he’s a good skater who handles the puck well and sees the ice well. And he’s got a big body frame; it took him a while to figure out how to use it, but in the college level, he learned how to use it.
“It’s going to be a process for him to get to and stay at the National League level; it’s a bigger jump than most people think. But they’ll see a kid who works hard and is willing to get in the mix first.”
Dave Hanson will be the first to tell inquirers it’s been a great year for him. For starters, he authored his first book – Slap Shot Original – and now he’ll have some choice seats any time he’s in Toronto or the Leafs are in Dave’s Pittsburgh home.
“This really is the icing on the cake,” Dave said of his son’s signing. “The 10 years I played, I think I played in every professional league that existed. But it’s 10 years of my life I wouldn’t trade for anything. And I think the hockey experience Christian has had so far and is going to have in Toronto will be things he looks back on and is very thankful for.”
And will we see much more of the Hanson ‘clan’ and their foil-covered knuckles in the years to come?
“Hey, like I told Burkie one time,” Dave said, “anytime he wants to sign the Hanson Bros., we’re ready.”
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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