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'Of Miracles and Men' tells 1980 Olympic hockey story from Soviets' perspective

30 for 30: Of Miracles and Men

The 1980 USA Olympic victory known as the "Miracle on Ice" is recounted from the Soviet perspective.

The first Sunday in February brought what some have called the worst coaching decision ever. The second will offer a reminder that Pete Carroll's Super Bowl slip-up was a mere blip in the grander sweep of sports history.

It wasn't even the worst coaching move in a game called by Al Michaels.

You're up, Viktor Tikhonov!

The late, mostly unlamented Soviet hockey coach, who died in November, will have his lowest moment dissected yet again in "Of Miracles and Men," an ESPN "30 for 30" documentary that premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday.

But this time the story of the 1980 Soviet hockey team and its loss to the United States in the Olympics in Lake Placid is told not from the familiar American point of view but from the other side.

That includes the players who have not forgiven Tikhonov for pulling the best goaltender in the world, Vladislav Tretiak, after one period with the score tied at 2 and replacing him with Vladimir Myshkin in the Soviets' 4-3 loss.

Tretiak and Myshkin are two of many key figures interviewed in director Jonathan Hock's film, along with Boris Mikhailov, Vladimir Petrov, Slava Fetisov and others.

The yanking of Tretiak is only one aspect of a look at the long arc of Soviet-era hockey as we approach the 35th anniversary of the loss to Team USA on Feb. 22.

And it is only one of two recent documentaries to examine the Soviet side. "Red Army," which has been released theatrically, also is well worth seeing.

There is some overlap, and both films culminate not with the Red Army but rather the Red Wings -- the Detroit-based outfit -- winning the 1997 Stanley Cup with five Russian players.

Both also feature the irresistible Fetisov as a central figure, both pay tribute to the father of Soviet hockey, Anatoli Tarasov, and both find a villain in Tikhonov.

But the ESPN film does a more thorough job of chronicling the time up to and including the 1980 game, while "Red Army" focuses more on the rest of the '80s and into the post-Soviet era.

The eye-opener for those of us raised on American Cold War propaganda is how relatable the old Russians are.

"Our main goal as filmmakers was to put a human face on the Soviet team," Hock said after a screening. "We were taught they were robots and machines and had no feelings and were just these automatons -- that all they did was play hockey and they were the bad guys.

"But the way they played, it didn't make sense. They played the game so beautifully and with such creativity that they had to love it."

One of the highlights of Hock's film is a segment shot in the summer of 2013 in which Fetisov returns to Lake Placid for the first time since 1980, walks the ice and visits the Soviets' old locker room.

"You felt this wave of memory crashing on him," Hock said, "and when he sat down [at his locker], it felt to me at the moment that it was like he was literally being hit by a wave that was knocking him down, and he was dazed."

The best nugget of all may be the Soviet TV commentary of the final seconds. Let's just say the announcer was slightly less enthused than Michaels was.

Igor Larionov, who joined the national team shortly after the 1980 Olympics, said at the screening that 15 or 20 years ago, men such as Mikhailov, Tretiak and Petrov would have been afraid to talk to an American filmmaker.

Not anymore.

Larionov recalled being in his final season with the Devils when the movie "Miracle" opened in 2004. He went by himself and sat awkwardly among cheering Americans as the Soviets lost yet again, then he "kind of quietly went out to my car."

It was refreshing, he said, to watch his childhood heroes and old teammates tell their side in Hock's film.

As Hock said, rehearing the Americans' story "never gets old, on the one hand, because it's so exciting to relive it every few years. But to hear the Soviet players talking about it with such depth of feeling, it was amazing."


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