“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.
However, “Red Penguins” is finally available as of today via streaming services. You can stream “Red Penguins” on iTunes and on Amazon Prime Video for $5.99.
Earlier today, I was a guest on the SiriusXM NHL Radio talk show “Under Review,” hosted by Mick Kern and Peter Berce. We talk about the hockey movie “Mystery, Alaska” as well as my article for The Hockey News about that film. We also talk about the Puck Junk Podcast and the new line of Puck Junk t-shirts. The segment is a quick listen — just 15 minutes.
You can listen to “Under Review” everyday on SiriusXM Radio or online here. ■
It was the original Winter Classic. Two teams facing off and getting back to their roots, playing shinny outdoors on a frozen pond under a grey, wintry sky. Only in this story, one team is the New York Rangers and the other is a group of amateurs from a small town. Mystery, Alaska, the classic underdog story of pros versus joes, turns 20 this fall.
Why does the movie Mystery, Alaska resonate with fans two decades later? Perhaps because it is one of the few movies that gets its hockey right. With all due respect to The Mighty Ducks and Youngblood, there are no silly knuckle-pucks or ludicrous stick-swinging duels in this film. Many people with deep hockey roots were involved in the making of Mystery, Alaska – and it shows. Producers Howard and Karen Elise Baldwin were the owners of the Pittsburgh Penguins at the time and had previously owned the Hartford Whalers. Scriptwriter David E. Kelley was the son of an NHL executive and the captain of his hockey team at Princeton. Brad Turner, the film’s assistant hockey co-ordinator and hockey double for Russell Crowe, played briefly for the New York Islanders and had an eight-year career in the minors. Several former players from the University of Calgary also contributed as Rangers players or as hockey doubles for the Mystery characters.
The Baldwins’ first film to involve hockey was the Jean-Claude Van Damme action flick Sudden Death. It came out in 1995 and had a hearty serving of hockey action. But in Mystery, Alaska, hockey was the main course. Oddly enough, the idea for the film came during a meal.
There are bad movies. There are movies so bad that they are good. And then there are movies that are so bad you want to turn it off because you’re embarrassed to be watching it. Ahockalypse falls into that last category. Ostensibly, the film is about a hockey team that fights off a zombie horde. Ultimately, though, neither of those things seem to take center stage throughout much of the movie.
Randy Walker had the best summer job a 16-year old boy could hope for. Back in the summer of 1984, MGM was filming the hockey movie Youngblood in his hometown of Toronto. Walker went with some of his friends to the audition because they wanted the free ice time, but he may have skated off with the best part – as one of the hockey doubles for the film’s star, Rob Lowe.
Remember that scene when Dean Youngblood scores a sweet wraparound goal and then gets clocked by Racki during the Mustangs’ tryout? Or when Youngblood gets crushed into the boards by teammate Derek Sutton during practice? Or when Youngblood streaks down the ice and flips a backhander over the outstretched leg of the Thunder Bay Bombers goalie? That was all Walker. Obviously, we see shots of Rob Lowe’s face – usually from the chest up – in those scenes. Walker was one of the people who made the hockey action believable.
But as a double, Walker had other, less glamorous tasks that you did not see. Many times, a double must stay in place – sometimes even lying under a championship figure skater — while the crew sets up the lights and cameras and frame the shot. Then the real actors step in when the filming starts.
Today, Walker is a police dispatcher and 911 operator in Spotswood, New Jersey. He is a scout for the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL and for the Amarillo Bulls of the NAHL, and was a youth hockey coach for 16 years. Working on the set of Youngblood may have been his summer job from over 30 years ago, yet Walker remembers it like it was yesterday. He spoke with me recently so we could geek out over his memories of working on the greatest hockey movie from the 1980s.
Sal Barry: You were pretty young when you worked on Youngblood. How did you get the job?
Randy Walker: I was 16 and played on a really good midget hockey team called the Toronto Red Wings. We won the championship. And there was a Junior B team called the Henry Carr Crusaders. They were also champions in their league. I don’t know how, but the movie found this guy named Charles Rosart.
SB: You mean “Masher?”
RW: Yeah, we called him Masher. I don’t know how they found Masher, but he called our coach and Henry Carr’s coach and got all our numbers. He called us and told us to go to the Lakeshore Arena because they were shooting some movie. Nobody in their right mind would ever believe anything Masher said, but the thing that got us to go to the rink was that we were going to play shinny with guys on the [OHL] Toronto Marlies, like Peter Zezel and Steve Thomas. We looked up to those guys. We were midget players, and those guys were in major junior.
So, it was June, school’s out, and we were going to get on the ice and play shinny with the Marlies. We thought this was going to be for a hockey instructional video. Masher told us it was for a movie, and we thought he was full of crap. When we got there, the buzz started going around that it was a Hollywood movie.
Dale Morrisey is a filmmaker with a passion for hockey documentaries. His latest work, entitled “Only the Dead Know the Brooklyn Americans,” takes a long look at a long-forgotten NHL team. The Americans pre-date the “Original Six” Era and contributed more to the long-term success of the NHL than most would credit them for. At the same time, the Americans were a horrible team, struggling for years, first in New York City and then finally Brooklyn.
Morrisey, 45, was born in Oshawa and is, in his words, “a long-suffering Maple Leafs fan.” He previously wrote and directed documentaries “The Father of Hockey” (2014) and “Hockey’s Lost Boy” (2016). Recently, he spoke about his newest work, and why anyone should care about a team that’s been dead for over 75 years.
Sal Barry: Please explain the meaning behind your film’s title, “Only the Dead Know the Brooklyn Americans.”
Dale Morrisey: That’s from Thomas Wolfe’s short story “Only the Dead Know Brooklyn,” which appeared in the New Yorker magazine in 1935. The gist of the story is that it takes an entire lifetime to know Brooklyn, and even then, you wouldn’t know all of it. So, we played off of that, because the Brooklyn Americans area forgotten team, and only someone who was around back then would really know and understand who they were.
SB: The Americans have been gone for how long now?
DM: About 76 years.
SB: Why would anyone care to know about the Americans today?
Twenty-five years ago, in October 1992, The Mighty Ducks flew into movie theaters and changed hockey forever. The film hatched two sequels and had an NHL team named after it, all in a five-year span. Terms from The Mighty Ducks like the “Flying V” and the “Triple Deke” became part of hockey’s cultural lexicon. A few years before all of that happened, though, it was just an idea, flapping around the mind of an unemployed screenwriter.
It is the late 1980s. Steven Brill started working on his script for a hockey movie. He combined his memories of playing hockey as a child, his renewed interest in the game after Wayne Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings, and his love for the film The Bad News Bears.
Steven Brill, writer (and movie cameo as ‘Frank Huddy’): I played peewee hockey as a little kid, on one of the worst teams ever, and it was just a horrible experience to be horrible at a game that I didn’t know how to play. We had a mean coach, but I loved being part of a team. It was something that always stuck with me. My passion for hockey and memories of my youth made me always want to revisit the sport.
August 9, 1988 was arguably the single most important day in hockey history. On that day, the biggest trade in professional sports took place when the Edmonton Oilers traded Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings. Here, the best player in his sport was traded at the height of his career. Gretzky’s trade changed hockey forever. “Kings Ransom,” an ESPN documentary directed by Peter Berg, recounts that fateful day and the events that led up to it.
Unfortunately, “Kings Ransom,” released in 2009, is not the documentary that I hoped for. It tries so hard to be dramatic and doesn’t say anything that hasn’t already been said.
Documentary shows that hockey can bridge religious and gender gaps
Thin Ice takes place as far away from organized hockey as you can imagine. In the northern region of India, just south of the Himalaya mountains, a young woman named Dolkar loves to play ice hockey. She dreams of competing in India’s annual National Ice Hockey Tournament, which is only open to males. But she will not be deterred.
Slap Shot came out 40 years ago and has endured as the greatest hockey movie of all time. However, there was never a set of Slap Shot cards to collect.
But as you probably know, some of the characters in the film were actually hockey players and did have cards made. Even better, some of the more recent cards are autographed and aren’t too difficult to track down, meaning that you can build a pretty impressive Slap Shot-themed collection.
If you are so inclined to “foil up” your collection a bit, here’s a list of cards to look for.