Red Army: A Return to the Ice

I stopped watching the NHL a few years ago after the strike. I was tired of putting up with the drama of having a season, and then not having a season. I haven’t looked back since then, and I don’t watch much hockey now. I saw, “Red Army” last night at, “The Little”. I enjoyed it and I think you should check it out in theaters. The film brought back a lot of pleasant memories from my childhood. I remember watching the “Russian five” when they played for Detroit. I remember watching them win the Stanley Cup with Scotty Bowman at the helm. The film helped me to remember why I liked watching hockey so much. Below is the trailer for “Red Army”:

There have been many films on the subject of the “miracle” in 1980. It’s become a mainstay of American lore. Movies like “Red Army” help to explain that there were people on the other side of that puck. The Soviets also had stories and melodrama. I had little to no knowledge that most of the players disliked Viktor Tikhonov. In all the films and stories I’ve seen he’s the stoic face of the Soviet Red Army. The focus of a film like “Miracle” was to tell the story from the American side. From that perspective he is merely a bit player, a small detail. In those portrayals he always looked so cold, methodical and calculating. I had no idea how volatile he was and how he would scream at his players and abuse them.

Viktor Tikhonov

Viktor Tikhonov

Like any good story “Red Army” has its heroes and villains. If Tikhonov is a villain that Anatoli Tarasov is a hero. Tarasov was the coach of the Soviet team before Tikhonov. Many consider him to be the father of the Soviet/Russian school of hockey. He had creative ideas that he would glean from things like ballet and chess. Speaking of chess, Anatoly Karpov had a cameo role in the film. His title read, “Chess Grandmaster”, or something similar. That’s it? Chess Grandmaster? That’s all we’re going to give him?

Anatoli Tarasov

Anatoli Tarasov

In that case why not mention his other achievements, like; stamp collecting. I know the film is about hockey but the pedestrian blurb seems disrespectful to me.

I digress.

I loved the archival footage of Tarasov training the team. Watching him do pirouette’s with the players was hilarious. You can tell by watching that old grainy footage that he was a man who loved his job. His holistic approach to hockey is inspirational.

The story of the 1980 “miracle on ice” is a nice story. Whenever I visit lake placid I make sure to take a trip to the arena to see where the magic happened. Thankfully, the arena hasn’t changed much since 1980. The narrative that we’ve added to the story is one that has become stale. Upsets happen; nobody is invincible and people have flaws. I could go on but I’ll spare everyone the diatribe.

Anatoly Karpov - Noted stamp collector

Anatoly Karpov – Noted stamp collector

I recently watched the 30 for 30, “Of Miracles and Men” on netflix. It’s another documentary I’d recommend checking out. I had concerns going into Red Army that the films would be too similar. It’s unavoidable to discuss the soviet teams without bringing up the 1980 Olympic game. I liked that this film focused more on the interpersonal relationships between the players. The one thing that bugged me in this film was when they discussed the firing of Tarasov. In the 30 for 30 they mentioned that he chose not to throw the game against Czechoslovakia. In this film they claim that it was his refusal to recognize a controversial goal. He defied two direct orders to play on from Kruschev (or Brezhnev?). These two stories are vastly different in nature. In one Tarasov comes across as a noble and courageous coach. In the other situation he seems petty and childish. After doing some research it seems that both stories are legitimate. The final straw for Tarasov came when he refused to throw the game against the Czechs. Before that, his refusal of direct orders to play on didn’t help.

The protagonist Viacheslav “Slava” Fetisov comes off as an ornery but affable curmudgeon. The film begins with him staring blankly into his smart phone. After roughly a minute of him ignoring the director’s questions, he finally gives him the finger. You can’t help but think; this guy’s a jackass. The director did a great job of showing that these guys are all unique. We often think of professional athletes, especially ones from that era, as being part of a machine. We see them as puzzle pieces, each piece has a part.

The juxtaposition between Fetisov’s description of his teammates and Alexei Kasatonov’s description of Fetisov was brilliant. The two heaped praise upon one another. Independently claiming that the other was the better player.

©Steven Kovich 2013

lol this guy

The relationship between the Fetisov and Kasatonov was quite intriguing. I won’t give too much away but it’s worth paying close attention. This brings me to the interview style of Gabe Polsky, the director. I loved the way he tore down the fourth wall and left in moments when people were not at their best. The interactions with Fetisov are comical. It’s clear that Fetisov doesn’t hold Polsky in high regard. It seems like he’s doing Polsky a favor by sitting down for an interview.

In summation it’s a film worth seeing, even if you’ve seen the miracle on ice 30 for 30. Finally, here is some archival footage of the Red Army playing the Montreal Canadians:

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