Aside from the dimensions of playing surfaces and the general rules of the game, bygone eras of sports tend to bear little resemblance to the updated versions today.
Athletes in 2022 are bigger, faster and stronger than their counterparts a generation or two ago. The money involved in sports has grown exponentially, and so has in some cases the seriousness with which we treat it all.
As we gain greater distance from some of the history of sports, the notion of the way things were becomes both more interesting and more audacious.
The retelling of that history has a certain appeal to a lot of sports fans — myself included — which is a primary reason to appreciate a new book from local author Dan Whenesota.
“A Slap Shot in Time: The Wild but True History of the Minnesota Fighting Saints,” which came out earlier this month, has enough “wait, that really happened?” moments to keep the pages turning.
The Twin Cities supported two professional hockey teams during the mid-1970s? Yup. The Fighting Saints, part of the upstart WHA, folded in the middle of a season? Sure there. Players from the organization formed the foundation for much of the movie, “Slap Shot,” still considered one of the greatest sports films of all-time? It’s true.
Wait, they really used to fight that much? Again, yes, as Whenesota recounted as he talked about the book on Thursday’s Daily Delivery podcast.
“All the crazy brawls and funny things that happened. There’s one in the book where they had some exhibition games, one in Mankato, where they split the team into a blue team and a white team — the farm team Johnstown Jets against the established regular starters,” Whenesota said.
Two of the Carlson brothers — the Hanson brothers in the movie — started a brawl after one of them punched the Fighting Saints’ best player, Mike Walton, and broke his nose.
“This was at a fundraiser for youth hockey,” Whenesota said.
The Fighting Saints lasted parts of four seasons, from 1972 until 1976, competing directly with the North Stars in the NHL before folding. Four WHA teams were ultimately merged into the NHL.
Imagine any of that happening now.
But it did happen 50 years ago, and Whenesota has brought it to life.
“I felt like these guys needed their own story,” Whenesota explained as the impetus for writing the book, “and that’s where it all began.”