We’ve all been there. Well, anyone of a “certain age” has, anyway.
That bucket-of-cold-water-to-the-face moment when, due either to physical limitations—aching knees, bad backs, getting winded faster—or mental epiphanies—“I’m too old for this shit”—we realize that whatever we’re doing, chasing or dreaming in life is just not worth it anymore.
When we finally look ourselves in the mirror and, for the first time in ages, truly see the age we are right now versus the Ourselves However-ManyYears Ago that we delusionally want to see.
When we discover that suddenly, while we were barely paying attention, reality has sucker-punched dreams and suggested that maybe it’s time to finally give up on the one thing we love most in life….or think we love most, anyway.
All of which, dire though it sounds, isn’t so bad. Because when you stop chasing a supposed true love, who knows, you might even discover something—or someone—you love even more.
Whew, that’s a lot, right? Sorry. Didn’t mean to dump all that existential stuff on you right off the bat.
But these life lessons, and so much more, are explored and laid bare in a great new indie film called Odd Man Rush. Released digitally September 1st across North America on Amazon Prime, iTunes and Vimeo On Demand, it’s co-produced by my latest Man-to-Man interviewees:
Grant and Todd Slater of Slater Brothers Entertainment (SBE).
Based on Bill Keenan’s book “Odd Man Rush: A Harvard Kid’s Hockey Odyssey from Central Park to Somewhere in Sweden—with Stops along the Way,” the title is also a hockey term for the attacking offense outnumbering the opposing defense. It’s a classic boy-meets-girl story, with all the quirky characters you’d expect from a film set (but not shot) in a small, Swedish town and breezy rom-com humor and pacing, all built on those universal, existential life mysteries above.
But despite the very specific and purposeful hockey backdrop, don’t call it a “just” a sports movie.
Like predecessors Slapshot, Miracle, Mystery, Alaska, The Mighty Ducks franchise, and of course multiple-Oscar-winning* Youngblood starring Rob Lowe—*yeah, not even close—that pigeonholing doesn’t do it justice. To steal from Forbes and The Gate reviews, Odd Man Rush is “a pleasant indie movie surprise that feels more like a character-driven slice of life story instead of an endless parade of genre cliches . . . what it lacks in manipulative, crowd-pleasing cliches it makes up for in unforced authenticity,” and shows that “even when hockey is horrible, it’s wonderful.”
Speaking of hockey, horrible and wonderful…Grant happens to be a former high school classmate and teammate of mine at Westminster, a small boarding school in Simsbury, Connecticut. But looking back, saying we were teammates is a slight stretch.
Sure, we technically wore the same black-and-gold uniform for two winters, traveled on the same team bus, etc., my “playing” was more accurately “watching” since I was just the backup goalie. Which consisted largely of (A) in practices, being a human shooting gallery duck for “skill players” firing pucks at my head, possibly wagering on who’d concuss me; and (B) in games, playing cheerleader at the end of the bench in games, talking shit, daydreaming about playing drums in my band, and generally praying the starter (Geoff Hanson, still a friend today) didn’t get injured.
So to me, okay, playing hockey was fun(ish)—and I’d been a huge Boston fan going back to the 1970’s Bobby Orr/Phil Esposito “Big Bad Bruins” days—but it was mostly just a mandatory winter sport I grudgingly played after fall soccer season. And admittedly, I was the most horrible combination of “player” for any coach (sorry, Mr. Briggs/Mr. Earle) or teammate (sorry, everyone else): half-decent-at-best enough to play in a top New England prep league, but far too lazy/disinterested to make even the slightest effort to get even three-quarters decent.
Meanwhile, Grant actually played hockey, and saying he was a wonderful talent is understatement. A sniper in the slot with those un-teachable quick hands, shifty speed and “one-pass-ahead-of-everyone-else” ice vision, he was arguably our best player (on a team of very good players) who’d go on to play Division I at Colgate University, in his hometown of Hamilton, New York. That’s where, from 1977-1991, the hockey program had been resurrected and proudly sustained under the guidance of NCAA coaching legend, Terry Slater—Grant and Todd’s father, a two-time All-American himself in the early ’60s at puck powerhouse, St. Lawrence University.
Sadly, Terry passed away in 1991. But the brothers later honored him and one very special season with their 2014 documentary The General, a Hoosiers-Esque story chronicling the tiny, scholarship-less Red Raider squad’s improbable run to the 1990 NCAA championship game against hockey Goliath, Wisconsin, and how the team—that’s Grant below—galvanized an entire community and cemented the elder Slater’s already timeless legacy of teaching, mentoring, and inspiring as coach, father, husband and neighbor.
Unlike myself, Grant was born into and raised around hockey passion. You could say it was the family business. He was great at it; and (I can only assume) lived, breathed and loved it. And like “Bobby,” the movie’s protagonist played by bank-on-it future star, Jack Mulhern, he also tried to keep his pro hockey dreams alive by playing over in Europe after college.
So this is a guy—along with Todd who also grew up a Colgate rink rat and played hockey at Taft Prep School, later attending Providence College—who didn’t have to fake hockey to help make this truly enjoyable film.
And this is a sports movie . . . that also isn’t.
That doesn’t mail it in, dumb it down, and rely on tropes that are as lazy as a backup high school goalie (who shall go unmentioned).
That despite its lighthearted, surface-level approachability, gets almost sneakily introspective on the human condition, like when—no spoiler worries—Mulhern’s character makes this seemingly innocuous but all-telling comment to his sister about “The Great Gatsby’s” protagonist:
“It’s like Gatsby’s reaching for something that’s already behind him.”
Oof. Co-screenwriters Bill Keenan and director Doug Dearth took the gloves off on that one.
But listen, Old Sport, don’t beat yourself up if that one hit close to home. We’ve all hung onto something or someone we love—or think we do—for longer than we should. Usually to avoid that pesky question looming out there for all of us:
While you ponder that million-dollar question, please enjoy the Slaters’ take on everything from hockey, filmmaking and life in a quintessential small American town to their father’s legacy, their mom’s strength, brotherhood, fatherhood, starting a film festival, and much more.
When do you remember first putting on hockey skates?
Grant: I was probably around 4. My dad was coaching the Des Moines Oak Leafs in the old International Hockey League. A pretty tough minor league. Back then some of the skates were dyed the color of the team. So we had green and yellow skates.
Todd: Ironically, our mom tells the story of when all her boys (Wade, Grant and myself) started playing hockey. She actually had to bribe Grant to get on the ice with treats and loose change when he was just starting out.
What do you love most about the game?
Grant: There are so many things I love about the game. It is such a fun game to watch and play, but honestly, I may have enjoyed the process of getting ready for the season. You train so hard to get ready for the season and the closer you get to starting the more excited you get. It was like the night before Santa arrived.
Todd: The camaraderie. The competition. The feelings that come with winning and losing and the yearning to do it all again as soon as you can.
After successful high school and college careers, how did you realize that hockey wasn’t going to be your lifelong profession, and how did you decide to form Slater Brothers Entertainment in 2009?
Grant: My Dad was a coach, so I was pretty realistic about my skills and abilities. During my last year of college, my team reached the NCAA Division I Championship Game and I knew that was going to be the highlight of my career, but like a lot of guys coming out of college or junior, I had the opportunity to continue playing at a professional level in Europe. So that bought me a little time to get it out of my system and see a bit of the world.
Much of ODD MAN RUSH was filmed in and around Hamilton/Colgate, which anyone not from there wouldn’t have suspected. What was the best part of filming on your home turf? And aside from pro set design/art direction, how hard was it to “fake” Sweden?
Todd: The best part of filming in Hamilton was of course seeing all of our friends and being able to move back to town for several months during pre-production and filming. It was really special to be able to see many of our friends every week, be it at the Colgate Inn or The Hour Glass, on campus at a hockey game, or just walking around town.
Grant: Actually, as far as the landscape goes, it was not hard at all. In fact, having played in Sweden, I knew right away we could pull it off. As for interiors, that’s the magic of Hollywood. We had a great team. The dasher boards in the Arenas that we used were tremendous. They were filled with Swedish Advertising. It was really cool to see it all come together.
Without spoilers, the chemistry between co-stars Jack “Bobby” Mulhern and Elektra “Elin” Kilbey—as well as Jack and teammate Dylan “Dean” Playfair (whose dad and uncle also played in the NHL)—seemed effortless. Was that director-inspired or naturally part of everyone being on this scrappy, “bootstrapping” team? Was there an “us against the world” vibe on set (so common to many indie films)?
This film was cast so well. Everyone was very professional. But we also felt that the entire team just really enjoyed making the film and we had a bunch of solid people working on it. It was funny, but we had actors that finished their job and still wanted to just stay and hang out. That doesn’t often happen.
What’s your style working with directors—Doug Dearth, in this case: as producers do you prefer to get out of the way and let your director do his/her thing, or was it harder not to give notes on this one since you know this world inside and out, on and off the ice, what’s authentic, what isn’t, etc.?
Grant: I really see the role of the producer as similar to the role of a General Manager of a sports team. We put a team together that we felt would deliver a great film. So we hired Doug, knowing what he was capable of doing and I was there as a hockey consultant, on-set to make sure everything was accurate. Honestly, we had so many hockey people involved we weren’t too worried. But that aside, the producers have to always be concerned about the bottom line. It’s a business we love . . . but it’s a business.
Slater Brothers Entertainment (SBE) is a diverse entity—multimedia and content; film financing, distribution and production; business plan development; artist management; and, oh, in your “spare time” founding/running an entire friggin’ film festival (more on that later). How do you divide and conquer, and what are your favorite/least favorite “tasks” within such a varied company?
Slater Brothers has really evolved since we started. Originally we were also involved in sports, but now we are pretty focused on film sales, and film and television production. I would say we are both involved in some aspect of everything we do, but Todd is definitely the one out front. I prefer the management and operational aspects of what we do. I think our key is that we communicate with each other very well. Lots of checklists. Todd has been in the film industry much longer than I have, but as far as filmmaking goes, it is very much a team game, so it was a very comfortable transition from the sports world to the film world. In fact, most of the folks involved in our last film, Odd Man Rush, were sports people before they jumped into the film business.
What (besides your lifelong connection to hockey) drew you to Odd Man Rush? Do projects come to you or do you have to hustle and find ones that intrigue you/fit your offerings?
We have been at this for a while and have a pretty good reputation, so these days projects come to us pretty much everyday. They are all at various stages of development, but like anything, certain ones really get your attention. That is what happened with Odd Man Rush. Todd actually read the script first and knew right away I would relate to Bill Keenan’s story. In so many ways it was my story. Similar to the character in the film, I played Division I College Hockey in the ECAC and then headed over to play in some of the lower professional leagues in Europe with the end of the career in clear view and a lot of questions of what’s next?
Was it important to you to have “hockey royalty”—last names like Gretzky and Lemieux—in the film, or was that just a happy accident?
Grant: I think Odd Man Rush was a terrific story. It was a hockey story, but what our main character was going through is something that we all go through at some point in our lives. It was sort of a what’s next? As for having a Gretzky and a Lemieux, Odd Man Rush was a Hockey film made by hockey people, so it was great that Trevor Gretzky and Alexa Lemieux were willing to be part of the film. I mention their first names, because they were really impressive people and I look forward to seeing what they do next in the world of acting.
Who’s the best man you currently know and why?
Grant: My dad passed away, but he is the best man that I have ever known. I think what impressed me most about my dad was that he felt very fortunate for everything that life had given him. He never felt that anyone owed him anything and he did a lot of nice things for people, but never cared if they made headlines.
What would the adult Slaters tell the teenage Slaters about life?
There are going to be ups and downs in life but that makes for some terrific stories and you if don’t have stories your life is probably pretty boring. So work hard, enjoy the time you’ve got and you can be passionate about more than one thing.
When was the last time you cried?
Grant: Hmm. I have not had a reason to cry about much in decades and I’m not a ‘tears of joy’ kind of person. That is more my brother. But as far as emotions go I was pumped when my daughter Kelsey was born and when our dog Maggie Rainbow Slater passed away, it took a while to get over that one. It definitely hurt.
Todd: I think it was at the end of watching Friday Night Lights (the TV series) since I was so sad that all my new friends (characters on the show) were going away after the last episode. Kidding aside, when we were making The General (about our dad), there were a few tough nights in the edit bay…but made up of mainly tears of remembering some of the great times.
Neither of you currently live in Hamilton (Grant, Tampa; Todd, Los Angeles). What drew you away, how often do you get back and do you see yourselves retiring there?
Grant: I think I can speak for Todd and say Hamilton will always be home. I still spend a good part of the year up there and I am currently looking at real estate in and around Hamilton. I left because at the time I was in the hockey business and you have to go where you get a job. So for a number of years I seem to move just about every year. Sweden, the UK, a couple stints in Montana, San Diego and LA. I was actually in LA working for the legendary sports entrepreneur Dennis Murphy and Todd came out after he graduated from college and has stayed put.
The word “spark” has a prominent spot on your site. Can you tell the readers what it means in the SBE world, and in life in general? I’m going to shamelessly steal one answer and say that perhaps shooting locally in and around Hamilton helps “spark” the local economy and provides opportunity (e.g. production internships for Hamilton students)…but what else?
Part of it comes from our belief that we have a responsibility to help anyone aspiring to be in the entertainment industry by providing internships and opportunities to gain experience.
Q. Who are your current heroes & why?
Hands down. Our mom. She is the strongest person I have ever known. There are five of us. Three boys and two girls and she was always there for us and our Dad. She also had a great career in public health. The list goes on and She is still there for us.
Q. Your dad was a coaching legend who sadly passed away right around the same age as we are right now. What did you learn from him on and off the ice?
Grant: Off the ice, I sort of mentioned this earlier, but he taught me that you don’t have to send out a press release after doing something nice for someone. On the ice, I think most of the guys that played for him would say that he taught us that every guy on the team was a critical part to the success of the team. And of course to hate losing.
“The General” chronicles a 1990 Colgate team with no athletic scholarships, some of the highest admission standards in the nation and no recognition in the National Polls, who trampled the giants of NCAA Hockey and made the championship game. You starred on that historic team: what were the most important life lessons you took away from that season?
Grant: It was really interesting because we had guys that could really score and we had great goaltending, but as the year went on it and through the NCAAs it was a different line every night. That team was a team in every sense of the word, every guy mattered and every guy felt like they mattered.
So you’re flies on the wall in a hockey locker room or editing suite—what’s something you hope people say about you personally and professionally?
That we are honest guys. What you see is what you get and that we are good people.
You co-founded The Hamilton International Film Festival which over 12 years has become one of the premier summer film events in the country. What inspired you to start the festival? Was it important to have Hamilton repped on the world film stage? Does it stem from how much your dad cared about the Hamilton community, enough that he turned down many pro coaching offers over the years to stay?
That really kicked off Slater Brothers Entertainment. When we talked about launching Slater Brothers Entertainment, we thought why not launch in Hamilton. Hamilton will always be home. It has been so much fun. Filmmakers are coming from just about every corner of the globe and selfishly it gives us a reason to hang in the village. Yes, I think it was probably tempting for Dad to head back to the Pro game while at Colgate, but at the end of the day, he knew Hamilton was the right place for our family.
Todd, are there any lessons or experiences from hockey or growing up in Hamilton that you’ve been able to translate to life/work in a vastly different environment like Hollywood?
Todd: As my brother mentioned previously, the film and television business is a very team-oriented industry. In order to get a great film or television series made, you need a lot of different people and personalities to come together with a common goal. So in this aspect, what we do now encompasses a lot of what we learned playing hockey and watching our father coach.
What lessons did you learn from your own dad that you hope to pass down to your daughter?
Grant: My daughter is a terrific kid and the one thing that I love most about our relationship is how well we communicate. Everything may not go perfectly in life but she will always know I’m doing my best as a parent and I know she’s doing her best as a daughter.
What’s the best and worst advice you’ve ever gotten?
Grant: Best—Our mom has always encouraged us to pursue our interests. That is something I have always tried to do and it has made for a pretty happy life. Worst—Someone once told me I should get a job selling insurance. He meant well, but I have never had any interest in selling insurance. I would have been miserable.
Todd: Grant told me to move from New York to Los Angeles when I graduated from college to pursue a career in entertainment and media. Probably the best advice I’ve gotten outside of what my mom, dad, wife and another dozen people have offered me. The only problem was that Grant was living in Orange County when I first arrived in California. So after getting an internship at Paramount, I would have to sit on the 405 freeway for the better part of 2 hours each way…just to get to the Studio for my internship. I spent more money on gas those first few years than I made.
What projects are next for SBE and where do you hope to see/evolve the company in the next five years?
Two of our films, Odd Man Rush and She’s in Portland were just released this month across the US and Canada, and we have a third film, Last Three Days, coming out later this year. So in the near term, it is supporting those films. This coming Spring we have a thriller that takes place in the Adirondacks, that we are super excited about. So we are working on finishing the financing for that one. We also just set up a development deal on our first television series with a major player.
But over the next few years, our plan is to really just scale what we have been doing. We are working on a capital raise to make that happen. Our company is focused on two areas of the industry: (1) film sales and acquisitions. It is a great deal of work, but is a relatively low-risk area of the industry…and with the amount of new platforms looking for content, it has been an area that has continued to grow for us, and (2) Film and TV production. We enjoy making feature films and want to continue making one or two films a year.
What in your minds defines a “good man”?
Grant: To me, I think it is so important to be conscious that you are doing something that is making a positive contribution to the world. Be honest. Stay humble. Help the less fortunate and appreciate your friends and family.
Todd: I think Grant nailed it. Our dad and mom always said to treat people right….how you would want to be treated. Dad would always use the example, talk to the owner of the team the same way you would talk to the person selling concessions or cleaning up after a game.
Huge thanks to both Grant and Todd for providing such honest insight into their world of film, hockey, family and the wonderful town of Hamilton.
Again, to watch Odd Man Rush digital or on-demand, visit Amazon Prime or iTunes. Because hockey fan or not, I think you’ll love it because it’s one of those endearing, not-trying-too-hard, self-aware, authentic films that, as this behind-the-scenes video shows, was just a team effort and passion project for all involved.
It also had an unintended consequence: it made this onetime disinterested backup goalie miss playing and being around a game and players that I honestly didn’t know I liked and respected so much at the time. A game that I now wish I’d taken more seriously.
Worst case, it might even help you or me answer that age-old question:
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