Oscar Night Special – Jack Carlson – former NHL and WHA player

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Oscar Night is Here. So Living Up to My Name talks Movies today

Tonight is Oscar Night! Earlier in my life, this was a day I would mark on my calendar and plan events with friends. I was a big movie fan and would set my goal to watch all of the “Best Picture” nominees before Oscar Night so I could make informed picks on my “Oscar Pool” prediction sheet. Nowadays, life has changed a little. I’m lucky to have heard of 75 percent of the nominees before Oscar Night and the chances that I have seen any of them? Very small.  The category that I am most familiar with is likely “Best Animated Film”. With 3 movie loving daughters in the house, it is likely that some of these nominees have been on screen here (more than 1 time).

And so as a throwback to the movie fan in me, and in celebration of the Oscars, I will pay tribute today to a former hockey player who turned down a role in the hockey classic “Slap Shot” to pursue a professional career.


Jack Carlson with the Minnesota Fighting Saints

Jack Carlson was born in Virginia, Minnesota – a 3 hour drive north of the Twin Cities. As you can read in this article from Vintage Minnesota Hockey, the part of the now famous “Hanson Brothers” from the Slap Shot movies were based on the real-life Carlson Brothers from northern Minnesota. The movie has become a great success, even being considered as one of the greatest sports movies of all-time. And while I have never seen the movie myself, and cannot speak to its appropriateness, it is part of the story of Jack Carlson, who missed the filming of the movie because his career came calling.


Carlson’s 2 brothers Jeff and Steve with Dave Hanson as Jack in “SlapShot”

In 1976, just as his brothers were learning about their upcoming movie role, the Edmonton Oilers were calling. Carlson had been playing for the Minnesota Fighting Saints in the WHA, but they were going to fold, making their players available for other teams to sign. That is when Edmonton came calling. Jack agreed to play for the Oilers, turned down the movie role and went on to play over 500 professional games between the WHA and the NHL.  And predictably, the part of the game that Jack Carlson was most known for was the rough stuff. He amassed 1111 penalty minutes in his 508 professional games.

As you can read in this article from Living Light NewsCarlson shares how lonely it was to play this game. H says “Looking back it was a pretty lonely life. The score was 6 to 1, you’re losing, and all of sudden the coach taps you on the back …“I wish I wasn’t that type of a player. I had some talent. I had some skills. But I wasn’t gonna be on a team scoring goals or setting up plays. I knew what my role was and so did everyone else,”


Carlson with the Minnesota North Stars

Jack retired from hockey in 1987, but as you read in the article, the destructive lifestyle did not stop when his career did. One night, after separating from his wife, he is staying with a friend and one night, his life took a new direction.  “I was staying at a friend’s place and looking for something to watch on TV and here I click on the Billy Graham Crusade.” He spotted old friend and teammate Bill Butters speaking about how Christ had changed his life.”

Butters had not only been a teammate of Carlson’s but was also a scrappy player who fought his way through his career. He became a Christian helping out at youth hockey camps. Now he was sharing his story at Billy Graham crusades. Carlson called the number on the screen and the next day, Butters shared with Carlson about Jesus offer of forgiveness and salvation. Carlson accepted Christ as Savior over the course of their conversation.

These days, Carlson works as a referee, and helps Butters put on youth hockey camps though Hockey Ministries International.

My takeaways from Carlson’s story


Billy Butters and Jack Carlson have lots in common, Born in Minnesota, teammates and believers in Christ. Butters led Carlson to faith in God.

1- Paying our Price – I like the analogy Butters uses to explain Jesus sacrifice. It is one I have used myself in explaining this concept to kids. It is like when the goalie on a hockey team commits a penalty. Someone else goes and serves the penalty in his place. That is what Jesus did for us. He served our penalty. But our penalty carried a much greater cost that 2 minutes out of the game. Our penalty was separation from God forever. And Jesus took that on for us. He sat in our penalty box and served the penalty in our place. What an amazing gift this is!

2- Lessons from your own Life –  Jack Carlson had the rare privilege of seeing a version of his life on the movie screen. I can’t imagine what it would look like to have my life depicted on a movie screen. What would be shown? If we step back and see what the story of our life is, how happy are we with what we see? I know that my character would be very flawed, would hurt others – sometimes accidentally and sometimes intentionally. What parts of our story would we want to share and what parts would we want to hide? The truth is that our story is known – the good and the bad – by the God who created the world and everything in it. And knowing us as He does, He still offers to serve our penalty for us and welcome us to join Him at His place forever. What an amazing love our God shows!


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