Bob Suter remembered as rock-solid force for Miracle on Ice team

Ken Campbell
Bob Suter (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

Bob Suter was remembered as the genuine article both on and off the ice, a Midwestern boy whose easy-going nature was contrasted on the ice by a physical presence that helped the U.S. Olympic team win the gold medal in 1980. Suter, 57, also the father of Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, died of an apparent heart attack in Wisconsin Tuesday afternoon.

Former Miracle on Ice teammate and four-time Stanley Cup winner Ken Morrow patrolled the blueline for the American team in 1980 along with Suter. On a team that was known for its speed and finesse, Suter was a physical presence who did the heavy lifting for the Americans.

“He was just rock-solid, on and off the ice,” said Morrow, who is now a pro scout for the Islanders. “We used to call him ‘Bam-Bam’. He loved to hit and he was probably one of the fiercest, most physical guys I ever played with.” Read more

Red Army documentary a compelling and riveting film

Ken Campbell
Igor Larionov, Slava Fetisov, Slava Kozlov (Ezra O. Shaw /Allsport)

In the final minutes of Red Army, director Gabe Polsky pulls out some footage of Alex Ovechkin’s first season in the NHL. As part of a publicity stunt, Ovechkin is firing pucks at Russian dolls filled with Russian dressing. As the dolls explode and Ovechkin celebrates with glee, former Soviet hockey legend Slava Fetisov opines, “We lost something. We lost our pride. We lost our soul.”

Some will portray Red Army, which makes its North American debut at the Toronto International Film Festival next week and will hit theatres in February, as a clash of cultures. Some will take note of how Russia is back to its adversarial ways in Ukraine and compare it to the Cold War version, one that saw hockey and sports as an extension of the Communist propaganda machine and its best weapon in proving to the world that the ideals of socialism worked.

But more than anything, Red Army is so compelling because it is about the people, the most central character being Fetisov, and how complicated the relationship between hockey and politics is in that country. On one hand, Fetisov speaks of how intrusive and dictatorial the hockey system was under Viktor Tikhonov, then speaks about his country losing its soul when players such as Ovechkin are free to come to North America and chase millions of dollars. (It’s interesting that Ovechkin footage is displayed during Fetisov’s musings about the loss of Russian pride. There might not be an NHL player who is as loyal to and passionate about his country as Ovechkin, who answers the call of duty whenever it is made. In fact, some NHL fans complain Ovechkin cares more about Russia than he does the Washington Capitals.)

It all makes for an incredibly riveting 85 minutes of history and hockey. Seen primarily through the eyes of Fetisov, the greatest defenseman Russia has ever produced and one of the greatest of all-time, Polsky’s film is a study of the progression of the Soviet-Russian game from the 1950s through its deterioration in the 1990s to today. It has incredible footage of early hockey players going through drills under coaching legend Anatoli Tarasov, executing somersaults on the ice in full equipment with Tarasov on his knees in the background saying, “You’ll become great hockey players. And great men.” (The biggest strength of the film is the archival footage, which comes courtesy of Paul Patskou.)

There is film of Tarasov moving chess pawns on a hockey rink diagram – a subtle glimpse of how the players would feel playing later for the dictatorial Tikhonov – and dancing with members of the Bolshoi Ballet. A Red Army recruit from the age of eight, Fetisov talks about his career and the bond he shared with the other members of the Russian Five – defense partner Alexei Kasatonov and forwards Sergei Makarov, Igor Larionov and Vladimir Krutov. One of the most gripping parts of the film comes when Polsky goes through footage of the game between USA and Russia at the 1980 Olympics. At times, Fetisov looks away as though he’s living the nightmare all over again. Other times he appears concerned and despondent. And by the end he has tears in his eyes.

Most of all, the film provides an illustration of the steely resolve the players had, particularly the ones who had to play for Tikhonov. (The former coach, who declined to be interviewed for the film, easily comes off as the biggest villain of the story. Fetisov recounts a time when Andrei Khomoutov was not allowed to leave the compound to visit his dying father. Fetisov’s wife tells of a time her husband, on the verge of playing in the NHL and growing more frustrated with being stonewalled, was captured by police in Kiev, handcuffed to a car battery and beaten until 4 a.m. According to Fetisov’s wife, Tikhonov then showed up and told police to do whatever they wanted, including throwing him in prison, but do not allow him to leave the country.)

Fetisov, it should be remembered, never defected. But he would also not go to the NHL with the government’s blessing if it meant he had to surrender any of his salary to the Soviet Union. Although Fetisov and Larionov, in particular, enjoyed wonderful NHL careers, the feeling is that once the players were separated, they were never the sum of their parts. That is, of course, until Detroit Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman formed his own version of the Russian Five with Fetisov and Larionov joined by Vladimir Konstantinov on defense and Sergei Fedorov and Slava Kozlov at forward.

All in all, Red Army is well worth the time spent. Polsky, the son of Russian immigrants who played collegiate hockey at Yale, has made a movie raw with emotion and truth that totally hits the mark.

Red Army is being shown at the Toronto Film Festival Tuesday, Sept. 9 at 6:00 p.m. at Ryerson and on Wednesday, Sept, 10 at 11:45 a.m. at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.

Re-training the Red Dragon for the 2018 Winter Olympics

Ronnie Shuker

It’s a rare for a country to take women’s hockey more seriously than men’s. Heck, it’s still a challenge to get some hockey-playing nations to take it seriously at all. But with its women’s team ranked a respectable 15th while its men’s team sits a distant 38th, China is getting serious about its national women’s program ahead of the next Winter Olympics and backing the team with some big-time money.

With the 2018 Games being held close to home in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the Chinese are demanding a strong showing from their women’s team. The field is wide-open behind perennial powerhouses Canada and the United States, and China is eyeing a shot at a bronze medal. The women finished seventh in 2010 but failed to qualify in 2014, and the country is pouring money into the program to get the team back in the mix on the international scene.

“Their training center was like the Vatican,” said Daniel Noble, a Toronto-based strength and conditioning coach. “That’s their job – to train all day. So it was a very cool environment to be in. It all comes from government funding. The dining hall is like a five-star restaurant. It’s unbelievable how they are treated. They get treated very, very well.” Read more

After six months, Nicklas Backstrom finally receives his Olympic silver medal

Rory Boylen
Nicklas Backstrom

Six months ago, Nicklas Backstrom was gearing up for the gold medal game at the Olympics. Sweden was about to take on Canada for all the marbles in Sochi. Heading into the final, Backstrom had four points – all assists – in five games.

But a few hours before the puck dropped, the IOC announced Backstrom was ineligible to play. They said the 26-year-old had tested positive for pseudoephedrine in a drug test he took a week earlier. The positive was believed to come from the allergy medication that Backstrom had been taking for seven years and prescribed by team doctors. Needless to say, the Swedes weren’t pleased with the way it was handled.

Canada won the game 3-0, but because of his suspension, Backstrom didn’t receive his silver medal with the rest of the Swedish team afterwards. It wasn’t until early March that the IOC decided the one-game suspension was punishment enough and that he could receive his medal.

Today, he finally got it. Backstrom received his medal prior to a Swedish League game between Brynas and Djurgarden. Read more

What’s the best hockey-football nation in the world? Oooh, the Germans!

Ken Campbell
German team

When Germany won the World Cup last weekend, it vaulted the country to the top of FIFA’s most recent world rankings. It also made Germany the best hockey-football playing country in the world.

Nothing defines a country’s athletic prowess more than its ability to excel in both soccer and hockey. (Why, you ask? Because we said so and it’s summer and in case you haven’t noticed, the hockey world is not exactly brimming with activity these days.) One is known as The Beautiful Game™ and the other one features corner kicks and lots of falling down and gnashing of teeth. Read more

Tom Renney faces huge challenges at Hockey Canada

Tom Renney

When Bob Nicholson took over as president and CEO of Hockey Canada in 1998, few people outside the hockey industry knew who he was. Over the next 16 years, Nicholson went on to create a corporate monolith that generated millions of dollars in revenues and won countless gold medals on the international stage.

That will be an enormously difficult act to follow. That the board of Hockey Canada has reportedly handpicked Tom Renney to do it is, well, a little curious. Renney is a man of enormous integrity and has a coaching resume – particularly in the international game – that would rival that of anyone in the world. But this is the thing. Hockey Canada is not a hockey team. For the purposes of the president and CEO, Hockey Canada is far more a business than it is a hockey organization. Read more

Top 5 meltdowns of the 2013-14 hockey season, from Phil Kessel to the San Jose Sharks

Rory Boylen
San Jose Sharks

When someone or some team melts down in sport, the ensuing range of emotions varies. Depending on the offence and where your allegiances lie, you may be utterly crushed, or elated. You may find a great deal of comedy in the action, or you may be offended. Either way, these moments become memorable talking points long after they’re seen live.

What were the biggest meltdowns from the 2013-14 hockey season? Here is our top five. Read more

Top 5 controversies of the 2013-14 season

John Tortorella (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

1. TORTORELLA CHARGES FLAMES DRESSING ROOM
Every NHL team has its best-and-worst-case scenarios laid out before each season begins, but there’s no way the Vancouver Canucks could have envisioned the nightmare that was to unfold. The franchise stumbled and bumbled on and off the ice and fell from third in the Western Conference in 2012-13 to 12th in 2013-14. And it’s hard to say which mistake was worst.

If you go back to the summer of 2013, the trading of goalie Cory Schneider certainly qualifies as a contender. After years of grooming Schneider to be Vancouver’s starting goalie for the next decade or more, then-GM Mike Gillis shocked the hockey world when he shipped the 28-year-old to New Jersey for the ninth-overall pick in last year’s draft. Schneider and veteran Roberto Luongo, who had nearly been dealt at the 2012-13 trade deadline, were dumbfounded by the move. But that was only the beginning of the madness. Read more