A week or so ago, Slava Fetisov was interviewed in the pre-game or intermission of a Red Wings game; I can’t recall if it was an NHLN broadcast game or NBCSN. It was to promote the documentary, Red Army. I missed the full interview, mostly because I tend to tune out during pre-game and intermission bloviating. (Seriously, Mike Milbury, Don Cherry, and others need to stop talking.) But I was reminded this past weekend as I checked out listings at my local independent theater. Still showing Oscar Shorts and Birdman – nope – but also Red Army.
The title probably gives a hint about the material, yes? It’s the name of the Soviet Army but was also the name of the army’s elite hockey team. The documentary centers around Viacheslav (Slava) Fetisov, defenseman and captain of the Red Army hockey team. It also covers the development of hockey in the Soviet Union, competition with the NHL, and the transition of Russian hockey players to the NHL following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In some ways, the film is heavy-handed and unoriginal: do viewers need to be spoon-fed tales of how hard life was in the Soviet Union post World War II? Possibly not, especially in the way the director/narrator did the voice-over as he talks to Fetisov. On the other hand, there is a lot of Russian hockey history packed into the documentary that I was unaware of. I’m looking for books on Anatoly Tarasov now. And, dear godlings, the skating of the Russian team was gorgeous. (I love beautiful skate work and passing, and would be happy if fighting and boarding disappeared from NHL hockey forever.)
Fetisov is an interesting interview/subject; he more or less ignores the interviewer, busy on his phone, until he wants to talk, and then he talks around some uncomfortable things. By the end, the Minister of Sport appointment and photo opportunities with Putin kind of explain how he responded sometimes. Of course, he was open about some really uncomfortable topics, like how betrayed he felt by his defense partner, Kasatonov, when he quit because the Ministry would not let him play in the US after promising publicly that they would let him.
The interviewees include Victor Tretiak, as well as Kasatonov, Krutov, and others. Borrowed footage shows up from a variety of sources, with some amazing clips of kids being trained in hockey camps, etc. Young(er) Lou Lamoriello has a brief appearance, and the announcing of Doc Emrick can be heard at one point :) And once again the pronunciation of Russian last names and the mangling by North American announcers pains me. Really, is it that hard to get the emphasis right? Fet-EE-sov, not FET-i-sov.
All in all, I’d say that Red Army is worth seeing if you are a fan of ice hockey or if you are interested in mid-to-late 20th century politics and history in general.
From a purely personal perspective, I found the selection of the few recent Russian draftees odd: Ilya Kovalchuk, first overall pick in 2001, but currently retired from the NHL and playing in the KHL; Alex Ovechkin, another first pick who is shown negatively in the documentary in terms of PR; and Nail Yakupov, another first pick who is really struggling in the NHL. No mention of Pavel Datsyuk, who has ridiculous hands and speed, two Stanley Cup rings, and a boat-load of awards. No mention of Evgeni Malkin, second overall pick behind Ovechkin, with a Stanley Cup ring to go with the Conn Smythe, Calder, Hart, Art Ross, and Ted Lindsay awards. But then again, maybe the point being made was that perhaps Russian players would be better off playing in Russia, where they’d be more respected? I don’t know.