Here in Canada, we say that hockey is a way of life. It’s a national obsession, a right of passage, a familial bond…hell for a while there were even hockey players on our money. However, as much as we want to see hockey as a way of life, we need to remind ourselves of one thing; that here in the west, hockey – and all sports – are still an individual choice left up to those who want to play it.

Take away that choice – begin to have players that cannot step away from the game and its system – and you’re left with a very different way of life. Not only that, but this other way of life can produce a vastly different result.

RED ARMY is the story of the most dominant hockey team the world has ever known. From the mid-1970’s to the late 1980’s, The Soviet national hockey team was all but unbeatable. It wasn’t just that they won their games, they seemed to dominate their opponents – playing with imagination and fluidity that the rest of the hockey world couldn’t keep up with. This documentary tells the story of how they became such a force, and what ultimately broke them apart.

What’s great about this documentary is the way it allows the story to funnel through Slava Fetisov – our humble narrator for the film. Fetisov – one of the greatest defenseman to ever play the game – has both a wry grumpiness about him, and a sad wistfulness. The story of his career is one of brilliance, leadership, betrayal, and determination. The film doesn’t offer up much in the way of new information, but by revolving the story around Fetisov, it gives even the non-hockey fan an “in”. To hear him describe it, we become fascinated with how these players became so good, and what ultimately broke them apart.

Like all sports documentaries, the secret of this film’s success is execution – and it executes on every level. The story of The Red Army is sprawling, with a lot of moving parts that all have their own sprawling story. This documentary has focused itself well,and presented itself in a way that make us focus not just on what its subjects are saying, but how they are saying it.

In between what they say and how they say it, we come to realize that sport as a demonstration of political might is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, making such things a national priority can produce some of the most extraordinary feats of athleticism the world will ever see…and we may never see it on a level that we did at the height of The Soviet Union’s power ever again. On the other hand, the personal strain of such feats may sow the seeds of personal discontent, regret, and disillusionment in the name on the front of the jersey. The cost of “winning at all costs”, may indeed be steep.

In Canada, hockey is a way of life; In Soviet Russia, hockey was life.