The Secret to Russian Hockey Power

Wayne Gretzky once stated that Viacheslav Fetisov was the greatest defenseman he had ever played against.

Fetisov (nicknamed Slava) was known to be the “Bobby Orr of Russia.” Winner of three Winter Olympics (2 Gold, 1 Silver), seven World Championships, one Canada Cup, three World Junior Championships and two back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings, Slava and his four Russian linemates were a feared iron curtain of offensive and defensive strength.

The 2014 documentary film Red Army documents the phenomenal achievements of Slava and other Russian hockey players as they existed in a militant style of training and management under communist rule. The film is also a testament to Slava’s immense personal struggle with his passion to play hockey outside the Soviet Union.

On the international level of professional Hockey the Soviet Union’s Red Army team, also called the CSKA hockey club, was the most dominant force from the 1950s through to the 1990s. This is largely due, as is demonstrated in the vast amount of archival footage in the film, to the military style training they were subjected to.

What is interesting about the CSKA hockey club is that is was a part of the Soviet Army. The hockey club’s players and coaches were soldiers and generals first and foremost; their allegiance to the club was mandatory.

Known as the KLM line of the 1980s, forwards Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov, and Sergei Makarov, along with defensemen Alexei Kasatonov and Slava were easily the best hockey line in the world at the time.

During the reign of “the Russian Five” their coach was Viktor Tikhonov, a general in the Soviet Army. Tikhonov’s style of coaching was dictatorial, relentless and absolute. Fetisov and his teammates would be forced to practice for 10-11 months per year at military barracks where they were kept from their families, seeing them only one weekend per year. During overseas matches and tournaments a KGB security agent accompanied the team to ensure that no players would attempt to defect from the Soviet Union.

Although Fetisov was first drafted into the NHL in 1978 by the Montreal Canadiens he did not end up playing in the league until 1983 with the New Jersey Devils. Fetisov and all Soviet players were not allowed to play in other leagues. Fetisov was promised several times that he would be able to play in the NHL, but those promises were constantly delayed.

Red Army highlights this exciting time in both Soviet Union history and the eventual opening up of the resistance to allowed players into the NHL. Slava Fetisov was one of the most instrumental players in this movement and his remarkable story is told in this award winning documentary.

Red Army was the only documentary to be an official selection at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, the American Film Institute’s AFI Fest in Los Angeles, the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado, and the New York Film Festival. It was also shown in the Special Screening section of the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.

The Yukon Film Society presents Red Army, directed by Gabe Polsky, at the Yukon Arts Centre on Sunday, Nov. 15 at 5:30 p.m. For more information about this film and other Yukon Film Society presentations go to  

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