When I first set out to make The General, I had one goal in mind; find out who Terry Slater was. I heard stories from other Colgate fans that watched him coach. The coaching that bordered on the unbelievable. Trading goaltending pads for a pair of defenseman, throwing sticks in the stands, and chiseling holes in the ice. Terry Slater was a psychologist, and something about who he was left me inspired to tell his story of how he took a lackluster program and shaped it to be a national contender. When I approached Todd and Grant Slater, I was sure they’d shoot me down. It was a story about their late father Terry and would be a painful one to depict. Then I realized Terry Slater left his mark on the small village of Hamilton, NY and if I didn’t do the film I would regret it.
Days after I pitched the idea I was excited about what was at hand, but didn’t really know what I had got myself into. I was entering my junior year of undergrad and had one goal in mind from when I got on campus: do whatever I had to do to get this film made and stay afloat with my courses. From there, I got on the phone with Grant Slater and started to arrange interviews of players, coaches, friends and fans who watched that season play out. One of my first interviews was at Crowe’s Drug store in Hamilton. Five old timers who each attended that final game in Detroit. They were Bob and Pat McGaugh, Hugh Humphries, John Morris and Bob Gross. Their interview really siginified something special. We had never met prior to that cold windy night in Hamilton, but we all shared the same passion for Colgate hockey and a story quickly unfolded. Bob Gross was battling cancer the night we did the interview, but came out to speak about Terry. It was that moment that Terry’s legacy really hit home.
I can still remember the feeling when walking into one of the places Terry would watch NHL games, like Crowe’s drugstore - the only spot that had cable in the village. I turned the camera on and let it go for two hours, at any moment it felt like Terry was going to swing the door open, sit down and have a beer. He was the type of guy who didn’t take no for an answer, a go-getter, and a family man. Terry came to Hamilton from Cincinnati where he coached in the (no longer) World Hockey Association. In Cincinnati he grabbed headlines, locking himself in the team bus after a loss, forgetting he left his wife Aggy at the rink, and sticking cotton balls in a refs whistles that he had beef with.
The guys in the drug store made the interview one that I will always cherish, and one that will never be duplicated in my career. All five where extremely close to Terry, and it was almost like I was talking face to face with him through those five guys, giving me goose bumps the entire time. As I was packing up, the Wisconsin and Colgate game was being played on the old black and white t.v sitting on top of the fridge behind the counter. I asked Pat McGaugh if I could take five minutes to film the opening credits behind the counter where Terry sat and watched games. It was late on a Friday night, but they stayed out late because that’s what Terry would have wanted.
I packed up my gear and off I went back to school, not knowing if any of my footage was any good. The stories stayed with me until the next set. Working around a full 21 credit college schedule and making time somehow to study in the day and edit in the night was challenging. Many times I would find myself in a editing room at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning, having class at 9 a.m, but first convincing the janitor I would always lock up and turn the lights off.
A Junior at SUNY Oswego, I navigated my way through their brand new film program. I could remember thinking to myself when I got there, how the hell was I going to do well in my courses, and make a movie? But several professors helped me find my place, each of them taking note of how much I cared about this film. People like Amy Shore and Bennet Schaber, to mention names. I remember very vividly the countless hours I spent in both of their offices just trying to figure out how many credits I needed to graduate on time. Or figuring out which student had our camera signed out so I could have it for the weekend. Resources were so slim at Oswego that it made you want to make a movie just so to prove that you could make it with what little we had. It was the perfect environment that challenged me to grow and become a nimble, scrappy, and ultimately better film maker.
Class became secondary, and the film began to slowly engulf me and I wasn’t prepared for the stress that would ensue after. I was trying to juggle three maybe four things at once and I had no clue what I was doing. School became difficult for me, but I wanted nothing more than to be a filmmaker.
I did another set of interviews in Boston when I had the opportunity to meet Terry’s assistant Brian Durocher, back up goaltender Greg Menges, student coach Eric Opin and family friend George Tahan. All added the emotion we were missing and gave me insight to who Terry was off the ice. He was an incredible father figure and a hero to many. I remember sitting with Eric and just having this emotion really hit home in an entirely different way than previous interviews. “The fact that we’re still talking about this today I think really speaks to what Terry Slater did for all of us.” - Eric Opin
Eric still stays in touch and always asks about the film, the progress, and me. That means a lot. I began to feel as if I was talking to a group of people that were like family. As I sat watching the game film, that I some how acquired from current assistant coach Brad Dexter, I slowly began to realize this. The whole community was involved in this story, this feel good, underdog, Cinderella team. Quotes from interviews and newspaper clips served as inspiration when I would sift through hour after hour of lost footage I managed to get from Colgate University. I took it upon myself to capture the raw emotion that was Terry Slater. The raw emotion that was Kelly Mills and the fourth line, and the raw emotions of the fans and community.
Terry Slater changed the hockey culture at Colgate and without him theprogram wouldn’t be what it is today. I had the opportunity to then do an interview with Kitchener Rangers head coach and GM Steve Spott. I remember driving up to Canada and having all of these emotions fester inside of me, wondering what he was going to add to the film. Luckily, Spotter really drilled home what we were trying to say the entire time. I can remember sitting with him and having him say “Terry took us on a crazy trip that year”, and he wouldn’t be here coaching in Kitchener if it wasn’t for Terry. He took the time to show me around the rink and facility as we talked about Terry and the year of 1990. He gave me some swag - he was such a class act and I’m happy I got to spend the few hours I did with him.
I feel like this film chose me rather than I it. I begged, borrowed and stole to get it done. Walking across campus with pounds of camera gear on my back, many times in a blizzard was what it took. I was going to do whatever I needed to finish the job, I owed it to Terry. Pictures of big moments scattered on the walls of my room served as bench marks in that wild year. Karl Clauss with the ECAC trophy in the old Boston Garden, the crowd jumping over the glass at Starr Rink when Colgate beat Lake State 2-1 to advance to the Final Four, and let’s not forget Shaun McKenrkin hitting the pipe for BU with 14 seconds left in the Final Four.
The inspiration that came from those pictures allowed me to dig deeper and mold a better story that could inspire athletes across generations. The inspiration surrounding the film left me completely emotionally and physically drained. Many days I would come back from class and just sit down and go through the 70 page scrap book I got from former athletic director Bob Cornell. Articles from old Cincinnati Stingers games or the 90 year. My childhood is painted with images of the halls of Starr Rink, players coming through the program. Guys like Andy McDonald, Jesse Winchester, Mike Harder and Steve Silverthorn to name a few. To this day, chills run up and down my spine when I pass the trophy cases with Terry’s shoes with the hideous laces and the trophy case devoted to the 1989-90 team. This film has made me appreciate the program in new ways I could have never imagined. It was a way for me to honor him and everything he has done for Colgate hockey, but never forget him. He has left his mark on me, being one of the strongest players in my young career.