by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com
Toronto Marlies coach Dallas Eakins admits he was suckered in by the image.
And that’s understandable, considering the image that Dave Hanson projected in the iconic movie "Slap Shot."
Eakins said if you’d have told him that one of the Hanson Brothers had a son, considering the on-screen craziness of the dad, he would have guessed the off-spring would be a real beaut.
And Eakins was right, for all the wrong reasons. He now coaches Christian Hanson, son of Dave. Christian does indeed enthrall Eakins, but that has nothing to do with the fictional freak show Dave created with his movie character Jack Hanson.
"He is so diligent at his game. He is so coachable. And he’s an intelligent," Eakins said. "This kid, even though he’s a first-year pro, carries himself like an NHL player. He is going to be in the NHL. He is going to find a way. I see it in his eyes."
It’s tempting to look at those eyes and envision the horned-rimmed glasses sitting on the stringy-haired mug made famous by his father’s alter ego. But that’d be missing the point. With five goals and eight assists in 14 games, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound wing is one of the emerging rookie forces in the AHL.
And the importance of this season reaches beyond the statistics. As much as Christian embraces the lore of what his father helped create, he also charges hard in the other direction to give his own talent some breathing room.
"I’m hoping to make a career out of this, when people see the name Christian Hanson, they think of a hockey player first, and not the son of Dave Hanson," he said. "I’m more than just the son of a famous hockey player."
Anyone who has spent more than five minutes in a hockey dressing room knows that lines from "Slap Shot" are tossed around more often than rolls of tape. When Hanson hears them he eagerly jumps right in with his own performance, even though the dialogue by now is literally embedded in his DNA.
"I love it. The guys throw the lines at me, I’ll throw it right back at them," said Hanson, 23. "I’ll talk about (the movie) until the cows come home."
As entertaining as that sounds, there are so many more topics Hanson can cover. He earned a degree in finance from Notre Dame. You can ask him about conditioning, how he gutted out so many sprint intervals on a stationary bike last summer to get in shape for the pros that he should have been granted an honorary yellow jersey.
He’ll be glad to crow about his change from center in college to wing now, a move that the Toronto organization correctly figured would allow him to more easily rush the net for those blue-collar goals.
"There was a couple things I had to work on," he said of the switch. "You find yourself thinking like a center, whereas I have to take care of my duties of a wing. As a center, I had a pass-first mentality coming through the neutral zone. As a (wing), they want you to put the puck on your stick and drive to the net."
Eakins, of course, looks at his prospect and sees a natural hot out of the power forward mold.
"He’s been incredible at upping his physical game," Eakins said. "When he’s on the ice, the other team knows it. He finishes his check hard every time. He’s figuring out how he’s going to be a regular in the NHL. That’s by being a power forward."
Eakins holds Hanson up as Example A on a number of topics. Want to see how a pro athlete is supposed to eat? Look at Hanson. How much sweat should you put out at practice? Look at Hanson.
That is the true legacy of growing up the son of Dave Hanson (a former pro himself), a role that Christian said he never viewed as a burden.
"I never found it tough. I never thought it was easy. It something I always had," Christian said. "He’s such a mild-mannered guy. To see him up there (on the screen) beating up guys is great. When he was off the ice, he was ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ and saying hello to everybody."
But sometimes reel and real blend indecipherably. Eakins said he was once running a practice and looked up in the stands to see Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke talking to Dave Hanson. Imagine that, Eakins laughed. There’s a Hanson brother in the flesh and blood, right up there, talking to my boss.
Christian said he’ll run into the occasional opponent who figures that Dave’s fictional personality is actually something that the son inherited in his game. What could be cooler, they think, than chirping and trying to beat up such hockey royalty?
"You take the good with the bad," Christian said. "You just skate away, don’t give them the time of day."
Christian does offer a ready-made one-liner when asked how the silver screen Dave Hanson would fare in a hockey game against the real-life newer version.
"I don’t know. He’d probably be in the penalty box when I’m on the ice," Christian quipped.
That’s probably for the best. A distinct separation of make-believe and reality has worked out well for both men. If there’s a Hollywood ending in store for Christian’s career, he wants it to come on a sheet of ice in front of a live, rowdy Maple Leafs crowd.
"Right now, I’m worried about my rookie year, make a good first impression, make the big squad and stick," he said. "The movie business is his. I’ll stick with hockey."
Lindsay Kramer, the AHL correspondent for NHL.com, profiles an up-and-coming player each Monday during the season, and his AHL notebook appears each Thursday on NHL.com.