In the final decade of the Cold War, Slava Fetisov was considered the most celebrated ice-hockey player in the U.S.S.R. He was a member of the Soviet national team when it lost the fabled “Miracle on Ice” game to its American opponents, in the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics—and also when it won gold medals in the next two Winter Games. Fetisov became the first Soviet citizen in history invited to play in the National Hockey League, but it was not until 1989 that he was able to leave the crumbling Soviet Union to play for the New Jersey Devils and later join the Detroit Red Wings for back-to-back Stanley Cup victories. When he asked to take the Cup trophy with him on a victory-lap visit to Moscow and was told that that would be impossible, Fetisov scoffed, “What is ‘impossible’?” Then he took the Cup to Moscow.
Fetisov’s charismatic, proud, and impish screen presence is the central attraction of Red Army, a documentary about Soviet ice hockey that was written, directed, and produced by Gabe Polsky. The film shows how the game of hockey galvanized Soviet identity, how matches were proxies for international conflict, and how Fetisov and his peers were groomed as national heroes while being forced to live away from their families 11 months of the year, often under K.G.B. surveillance, and all but enslaved by brutal training regimens.
Red Army is being released as tension between Russia and the U.S. returns to Cold War levels. Over lunch with Fetisov in Moscow last year, I asked him what he had learned about the difference between the American and Russian ideals of strength. Fetisov at first said there was no difference. But then he said, “Russia is a little bit get more upset when they lose something. But America, you never get upset. Russia, they can blame themselves for a long time not to be a champion.
“Blame themselves”—he repeated, with a flat but flashing glance—“not somebody else.”
Michael Joseph Gross
From Oscar-nominated and Emmy award-winning filmmakers, Red Army is a feature documentary about the Soviet Union and the most successful dynasty in sports history: the Red Army hockey team.