October 26th, 2016

Max’s View

Red Army
The most popular sporting events in the world are international competitions like the Olympics and the World Cup.

Not to me, though. I have almost zero interest in those events. And if I do end up watching, I always root against the United States.

“Whoa, Max! You root against us?! Do you hate America or something?” No, quite the contrary. One of the things I’m most proud of about the United States is that we go our own way when it comes to sports.
I think it’s awesome that our national sport is a violent, complicated game that no one else in the world even understands.

I think it’s delightfully audacious of us to call our baseball championship the World Series even though there have only been two occasions when a non-American team has competed in it.

Since we already have amazing sports and teams that we care about, it is a bit selfish to want to rob little countries of the joy and pride they get when their beloved national team wins an international competition. That’s why I was rooting for little Ghana to beat the United States in last year’s World Cup. The match surely meant more to the Ghanaians than it did to me.

The splendid documentary “Red Army” tells the story of the Red Army hockey team – perhaps the greatest national sports team of the 20th Century.

Americans know the Soviet team best from the Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid in 1980. But the reason that game is famous is because that was pretty much the only one that the USSR didn’t dominate.

In the early days of the Cold War, Joseph Stalin founded the Red Army team and made it a national priority to build the best hockey team in the world.

Even Stalin knew that you can’t force young man to be great at gunpoint. If there is a hero of “Red Army,” it is coach Anatoli Tarasov. By all accounts, he was a brilliant innovator. By incorporating aspects of ballet and chess into his training, Tarasov created a sophisticated, finesse-oriented, uniquely Russian hockey style.

I know nothing about hockey, but documentarian Gabe Polsky proved to me with entertaining archival footage that the Soviets literally skated circles around their befuddled Western foes.

The Soviet team reached its zenith of dominance in the 80s with the Russian 5: a quintet of young stars who trained together in isolation for 11 months out of the year to become the perfect cohesive unit. Led by the Russian 5, the USSR dominated world hockey even as the country itself disintegrated.

“Red Army” is a perfect documentary. It works as a Cold War history film. And it works as a dramatic sports flick.

The movie goes from interesting to triumphant in its final act when it tells the story of what happened to the Russian 5 after the fall of communism. All five men made decent money playing in the NHL, but none of them really excelled.

In 1995, the Detroit Red Wings took a chance on the aging Red Army legends and signed all five of them.
Hollywood couldn’t have written a more perfect ending. Working together again, they were an unstoppable force. Even though they were well past their prime, the Russian 5 led Detroit to two straight Stanley Cup titles.

I don’t have much good to say about the USSR. But the pride that the Soviets took in their national hockey team is a wonderful thing that I wouldn’t dream of depriving them of. The other countries of the world can have their Olympic Medals and World Cup trophies. I’m an American. I’ll stick to the sports that actually matter: the NFL and MLB.

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