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  • Bill Chastain

TOYS AND GAMES: “Red Army” Brings Perspective

Taking things at face value is often our only option based on the available information.

I’ve now found that to be true about the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” USA hockey team’s win over the Soviet Union — the favorite single sporting moment for this baseball, football, basketball guy.

To this day I get chills just thinking about Al Michaels saying, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”

Unknown at the time was the back story of the Soviet team. We knew them simply as the bad guys. Hammers and sickles on ice. So we loathed them and celebrated when a group of baby-faced college kids defeated them.

Soviet_Union_national_hockey_team_jerseys_(1976) Soviet Uniforms of 1976

“Red Army” brought me new perspective. This splendid documentary does nothing to diminish what that USA hockey team accomplished. Fact is, you appreciate even more what they did. The Soviets might have had the greatest collection of hockey players ever assembled. In essence, what this film does is put a face on the villain.

That face is difficult to dislike since it primarily belongs to Slava Fetisof, who played for that Red Army team and later played in the National Hockey League. He steals the show with his insights and story — as a youngster he waited in a line that extended miles long to try out for the team. Fetisof is likeable and we discover he had balls.

Along the way, we learn that Soviet coach Anatoly Tarasof was beloved, why he got run off and how the coach that followed him, Viktor Tikhonov, ruled like a tyrant. In the background, the lingering threat of the KGB is everywhere — always.

The Soviets played an evolved style of hockey. Passing, weaving, and finesse combined to create a whirling chess match on ice. They were artists. In contrast, the NHL played like a bunch of goons.

Fetisof and others eventually began to trickle into the NHL, where they were asked to adopt to the league’s primitive style. A request akin to asking Van Gogh to paint houses. Frustration followed.

Enter Scotty Bowman.

The legendary coach rounded up a core of Soviet players to play for the Detroit Red Wings. Fetisof at age 37 was one of them.

USA_-_Soviet_Union_1980_match 1980 USA-Soviet Hockey

Bowman, who is recognized by most as one of the top coaches — if not the best — in NHL history, coached all-star teams against the Soviets and knew what gifts they possessed. So he checked his ego and didn’t pretend to understand the Soviet’s brilliance. Instead, he “just let them do what they wanted to do.”

That resulted in the 1997 Red Wings winning the Stanley Cup.</