Blackhawks

When Mario Lemieux and Michael J. Fox owned part of Russian hockey team

Blackhawks

In the early 90s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, a group of investors including two owners of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Mario Lemieux and Michael J. Fox took ownership of 50 percent of the then struggling Russian national hockey team.

"You can't really call it owning because it's the Russian government, but we basically stepped in and took over the financial interests of the central Red Army hockey team in Moscow, in Russia," Fox said on CNN's "Larry King Live" during a clip shown in director Gabe Polsky's new documentary, "Red Penguins".

"Red Penguins" is a more-than-worthy follow up to Polsky's well-received "Red Army" released in 2014.

His latest doc zeroes in on what happens when Pittsburgh Penguins owners Howard Baldwin and Tom Ruta, along with their other investors, try to save the once proud hockey club that had a previous relationship with the Soviet armed forces and name it the Russian Penguins.

"At the beginning, we didn't understand the risk. We didn't understand what the country was like and what have you," Ruta says early in the film. As the movie plays out, that statement becomes more and more true.

Marketing wiz Steven Warshaw, hired by Baldwin and Ruta and sent to Moscow, achieves success in coming up with promotions such as free beer nights to fill the Russian Penguins' arena. The success from the Americans' involvement in the team also attracted Disney's interest according to Warshaw.

 

Things go south when the Russian mafia gets involved. Not even Warshaw's comic relief in the film softens the destruction and violence done by the criminal organization as the partnership falls apart.

"Red Penguins" is available Tuesday on iTunes, Amazon, On Demand and all other video platforms.

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