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'Red Army' film focused on legendary Russian team

by Evan Sporer / NHL.com

Gabe Polsky grew up in the United States a child of parents from the former Soviet Union. He said his family's history and his heritage never really interested him for the most part, but one thing that did catch his attention was his hockey coach at age 13, also from the Soviet Union.

"It was kind of eye-opening, the style of play that he taught and the school of hockey he taught," Polsky told NHL.com. "It was really encouraging of creativity, and all these unusual training methods.

"[Anatoli] Tarasov's sort of school of hockey."

Polsky went on to play college hockey at Yale before entering a career in filmmaking. And it's that upbringing, one that combined a passion for hockey with a developed curiosity in Russian and Soviet culture, which led him to direct the documentary "Red Army," which explores one of hockey's most dominant international teams.

Tarasov was the architect of Red Army, a hockey program he was tasked with creating after World War II. Using unique playing and practice methods, Tarasov helped pave the way for years of dominant Soviet play. He's also credited with the style many Russians incorporate to this day.

"Then I did more research, I became a filmmaker, and I wanted to know more about the story of the Soviet Union and the hockey team," Polsky said. "And I realized the story of the team was really a kind of a reflection of Soviet society and Russian people, and sort of the Soviet experience.

"Really I could tell a huge story by examining this hockey team and its experience."

The documentary has hit theatres in New York and Los Angeles, and has been shown at several film festivals. Polsky said it was the first movie about hockey to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival.

"It was exciting and emotional for me because it's the story of Russia, and I wanted the people to feel like it was truthful and it had soul and heart," Polsky said of the documentary's debut in Moscow. "It was great.

"People have really embraced this film because it goes way beyond hockey. And it's an emotional film and it's a great story that's unique and dramatic and very unusual. People are entertained by it and kind of learn a lot from this film."

Much of the documentary focuses around Viacheslav "Slava" Fetisov, one of the premiere players and a Red Army captain. Polsky said his original plan wasn't to tell the story through Fetisov, and it almost never happened.

"I wasn't even going to get Slava because he didn't want to do it," Polsky said. "I had called him many times and he just wasn't really interested. But for some reason he agreed to meet with me for 15 minutes, and then it turned into a 5-hour interview.

"He liked me and I needed to interview him again and he kept interviewing with me."

Many American hockey fans associate the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics with the Miracle on Ice, when the United States defeated the heavily favored Soviet Union and went on to win the gold medal.

But for international fans, the story is quite different. The 1980 Olympics ended a streak of four consecutive gold medals for the Soviets, but they came back to win gold in 1984 and 1988. The silver medal in 1980 is not omitted, but only part of the larger Soviet story which Polsky's documentary attempts to tell.

"First of all these are guys that I watched a lot on VHS tapes and I admired what they did for the sport," Polsky said. "I had a level of respect, but really my goal was to get deep into their soul and kind of who they are and what they believe in and what their experience was so the audience can connect to them on a very human level.

"They're all very different kind of people, but I was just professional about it. I just wanted to get deep inside and that was my goal."

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