“Red Penguins” is a new hockey documentary about the strange partnership between the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Russian Red Army hockey team and the Walt Disney Corporation. Back in the early 1990s, the famed Red Army hockey team was broke, so it reached out to NHL teams for help. The Pittsburgh Penguins answered the call, and for two seasons co-owned the Red Army team, re-branding it as the Russian Penguins.
Things went well at first. Pittsburgh Penguins ownership brought in a marketing team that introduced “North American Hockey” to an unsuspecting Russian fan base — from opening-night theatrics, game-night giveaways, strippers (seriously), bears drinking beer and more. It was nothing like Russian hockey fans had ever seen. Unfortunately, this also drew the attention of the Russian Mob, who wanted a piece of the action, too. And that’s when things really go off the rails.
If this story sounds familiar to you, it is because I wrote about it last year for The Hockey News. Last fall, “Red Penguins” was featured at the Toronto International Film Festival and received strong reviews. The film was set to be released in theaters this spring, but then the COVID-19 pandemic swept the continent and closed theaters.
Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk.