Redemption In Red

Filmmaker Gabe Polsky Rediscovered His Love Of The Game While Making And Promoting “Red Army”

Gabe Polsky didn’t set out to make a hockey movie when he created “Red Army,” but he hopes that in some small way his film about the rise and fall of the Soviet Union as a global hockey power will influence the way the game is played here in the United States.

After making the rounds of film festivals and art house theaters, the feature documentary is now available on Digital HD, Blu-ray and DVD, which Polsky thinks will open it up to a wider audience, especially in the hockey community.

“Slowly but surely, as word started to spread, the response has been great, but I still don’t think that it’s really penetrated the hockey world yet,” Polsky said.

“I think it’s going to be one of those slow-burning cult films that ultimately catches on through word of mouth.”

For those in the game, Polsky hopes that watching the Soviet style of play will inspire them to consider changing how they play and coach the game here at home.

 “One of my main reasons for doing this is that I believe that the game can be revolutionized again and can keep getting better and keep getting more interesting, not only to play but also to watch,” Polsky said.

“We need creative thinkers who are leading the sport – players and coaches. It’s critical, or else the game will get stale. These are the kinds of people that we should treasure, and that was a major reason for me to make this film. We’re losing track of what’s important in the game.”

“Red Army” focuses on the Soviet Union’s Red Army hockey team from the perspective of its captain, Viacheslav “Slava” Fetisov, who stood up to the powerful Soviet system to pave the way for himself and future generations of Russian hockey players into the NHL.

 

 

 

 

One challenge, at least from Polsky’s perspective, is that rather than the Russian influence seeping into the North American game, those imported players were forced to adapt to a foreign style of play that flies in the face of their past.

“The Soviets always complained about the North American style of play. They said, ‘I don’t understand, you work so hard to gain possession of the puck and then you just give it away by dumping it in,’” he said.

Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, Polsky received his first taste of the Soviet system of hockey development from Stan Stiopkin, a Russian immigrant who brought a new way of thinking to the Chicago Young Americans youth program.

Aching to learn more about the Soviet style of play, he got his hands on an old VHS copy of the 1987 Canada Cup series and was blown away by the game that only vaguely resembled anything he has seen or played in the United States.

“I put that VHS tape in and what I saw was the most amazing hockey that I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said. “The Soviets really took hockey to a whole new level, the passing, the combinations, the opportunities that they created every single time they touched the puck.

“It really inspired me and made me curious about this team and how they lived. I wondered how under such oppressive conditions in the Soviet Union could such free hockey exist.”

Polsky continued to develop his game at a New England prep school and was eventually recruited to attend Yale University. It didn’t take long before his ideas of how the game should be played began to  clash with those of longtime Bulldogs head coach Tim Taylor. And as usually happens, the coach tends to emerge victorious in a battle of wills.

Gabe Polsky's career at Yale University never played out the way he had hoped it would.Gabe Polsky's career at Yale University never played out the way he had hoped it would.

Disillusioned and discouraged, Polsky eventually hung up his skates, uncertain if he would ever touch the ice again. That's when he began to immerse himself in his new career as a filmmaker.

Making “Red Army” has been therapeutic for Polsky as he tries to make sense of why his hockey career never played out as he thought it would.

“In college I had a heartbreaking experience, I mean really heartbreaking, because I didn’t think that I got a fair shot,” said Polsky, who played in only 27 games over the course of three seasons.

“I was left with an incredibly empty feeling and told myself that I don’t even know if I’ll ever get on the ice again. That kind of feeling, it stays with you, no matter how long you try to bury it and ignore it. It’s always there. So when I started making films I was thinking about how I was going to contribute to the world through films the way I never was able to do in hockey.”

As he crisscrossed the world promoting “Red Army” at film festivals and special screenings, Polsky has enjoyed the opportunity to meet and talk hockey with some of the biggest names in the game, from legendary coach Scotty Bowman to Wayne Gretzky.

Along the way he has made peace with his hockey history as he has rediscovered his passion for the game. He found it in the grainy black & white footage of the past, which he believes it holds the key to the future of the game.

“I had buried it for so long, but when I started looking at these games and getting back into it I saw the things that made me so passionate about the game, which was the creativity and exceptional playmaking and speed,” he said.

“It’s one of the main reasons why I made this film. I want people to understand that you can make the game into something extraordinary and interesting, both to play and to watch.

“I was a casualty to the other way of thinking and I felt that I needed to make a story about this. Obviously I have a lot of other things in that story but that’s really why I was so passionate about it and what really got me through the whole thing.”

Issue: 
2015-06

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