Hockey Drama Best Off Ice

Hockey drama best off ice
CBC's Canada Russia '72 evokes the times and characters of the series.
By BILL HARRIS, SPECIAL TO THE FREE PRESS

It hasn't been a great year if you're a grown man with a Maple Leaf on your hockey jersey.

Canada's women and junior men still dominate the world of pucks and sticks. But glory was a speck in the rearview mirror for Canada's 2006 Olympic men's squad, not to mention the ongoing plight of the hopeless Toronto Maple Leafs.

So maybe there couldn't be a better time for Canada Russia '72, a CBC made-for-TV miniseries that airs in two parts, tonight and tomorrow, starting at 8 p.m.

Not to give anything away, but Canada wins in the end!

Sports movies are tough to pull off, folks. You can count the really good ones on no more than two hands.

But by focusing primarily on what happened off the ice (the hockey segments aren't horrible, but they're like watching highlights in slow motion), Canada Russia '72 earns a modest but affectionate thumbs-up.

First, some of the positive stuff: The miniseries does not turn every Canadian player into a selfless hero. There was quite a collection of egos on the bloated Team Canada roster and the warts are not hidden.

David Miller (the actor, not the mayor of Toronto) effectively brings to mind scoring star Paul Henderson -- as does Booth Savage as Team Canada coach Harry Sinden (although if you close your eyes and listen closely, Savage sounds a lot like comedian Norm Macdonald), Judah Katz as hockey czar Alan Eagleson, David Berni as Phil Esposito and Gabriel Hogan as Ken Dryden.

Even though Mike Dopud does not bring to mind Vic Hadfield in a physical sense, his performance is excellent.

And it's a big role, too, since much of the controversy centred upon the seldom-used Hadfield's image-altering decision to leave Team Canada midway through the series.

The soundtrack has been carefully chosen to reflect the times, with Canadian artists such as the Guess Who, the Band and Crowbar being utilized liberally and effectively. And a wise decision was made to have the Russians speaking Russian to each other, with English subtitles, rather than having them speak to each other in accented English.

But there are some less convincing elements.

Mark Owen does his best playing former NHL tough guy and Canadian assistant coach John Ferguson, but Owen doesn't look like Ferguson at all, which is distracting.

John Bregar, who plays Bobby Clarke, looks more like pretty-boy singer Kalan Porter than Clarke.

Everyone knows the fans attending the game in Vancouver booed Team Canada, but the booing materialized as the game progressed, not when the Canadians first took the ice. The makers of the film even have the Vancouver fans loudly cheering the Russians, which simply is inaccurate.

And while we're at it, there's an inaccuracy in the title, Canada Russia '72. Canada was not playing Russia, but rather the wider political entity known as the Soviet Union.

That's nitpicking, though, since the production generally paid great attention to detail, from the advertising on the boards (there were ads in Russia but not in Canada) to the types of sticks used to the old stubby beer bottles.

Overall, the good far outweighs the bad in Canada Russia '72.

Neither the men's Olympic team nor the Maple Leafs can make the same claim.

IF YOU WATCH

What: Canada Russia '72

When: Tonight and tomorrow, 8 p.m.

Where: CBC-TV