Biography [Source: legendsofhockey.com] (May 18, 2004) -- "I spent my early childhood in a small town called
Dmitrovo, not far from Moscow," begins Vladislav Tretiak, the first Soviet elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Tretiak was born April 25, 1952,
the son of a physical education teacher. A love of sports rubbed off on the young Tretiak. "Many of the future hockey stars like (Alexander) Bodunov,
(Gennady) Lapshenkov and (Vassili) Titarenko went through her (his mother's) class," he mentions.
After participating in sports, including track and field, basketball, volleyball and skiing, Tretiak discovered hockey. "I found an old wooden stick with
a funny curve at the end of it," he laughs. It was his mother's field hockey stick. "I found out she had participated in the Moscow championship. In the
1930s, all females played field hockey in Russia. I forgot all about my other toys when I first saw that hockey stick. I pushed rocks around in the
backyard with it," says Vladislav.
A young Tretiak was admitted to the renowned Central Red Army Sports Club, where he initially played forward but, in the absence of a netminder,
volunteered for that role. "When I was twelve, I received my first serious injury," Tretiak recalls. "The puck hit me squarely in the forehead. I
didn't cry only because I was afraid that I'd be kicked off the team. I had fallen in love with the game so much that I was selflessly devoted to it."
In 1967, Central Red Army was carrying three goaltenders, but legendary coach Anatoly Tarasov remarked that a fourth would make practicing more
efficient. Tretiak, just fifteen, was invited by Tarasov to be the fourth netminder. "When people praise you, they rob you," Tarasov warned the
boy competing amongst men. "If I criticize you, it likely means that I need you." After returning to the junior team, Tretiak was named Best Goaltender
and his team won the Moscow championship.
The next season, after Tretiak and his junior team won the European Junior championship, he again was summoned by Tarasov to play with the Central Red
Army squad. This time (1969-70), he was a permanent member of the team. "He wanted me to feel that each puck in my net was a personal defeat. I will
never forget Tarasov's lessons. Now, looking back after many years, I clearly understand that he was not only teaching us hockey, he was teaching us
Tretiak enjoyed his first Olympic experience in 1972. The Winter Games, held that year in Sapporo, Japan, saw the Soviet Union collect the gold medal
That autumn, Canada and the Soviets met for a legendary eight-game Summit Series. It was the first time Canada had been allowed to use professionals
to compete against the best players the Russians had to offer. Canadian scouts rated the Russian goaltending harshly: 'It seems that Tretiak is still
too inexperienced to stand up to the NHL sharpshooters,' the report read. 'He is not confident with his ability in tight situations. The goalkeeper
is definitely the weakest link on the Soviet team.' But there was more to the story than met the eye, as Tretiak explains. "I was approached by one of
the Canadian writers who had been present at the exhibition game between the Soviet National Team and the Army Club in Moscow. 'Why did you let in nine
goals that day? Was it a ruse?' No, it just so happened that I was getting married the next morning and couldn't concentrate on the game."
Shortly before Game One, Tretiak and the Russians had a visit from a welcomed guest. "Jacques Plante came into our room with an interpreter and
amazed us by sitting with me and explaining in detail how I should play against the likes of Mahovlich, Esposito, Cournoyer and Henderson. I am
still puzzled by what motivated him to do that. I will always be very grateful to Jacques Plante, whose suggestions helped me very much."
Game One took place in Montreal on September 2, and saw the Soviets spank Canada 7-3. Canada turned the tables in Toronto for Game Two, winning 4-1.
Game Three, held in Winnipeg, was a deadlock at four goals apiece. Vancouver hosted Game Four, a 5-3 Soviet victory.
"When we returned to Moscow, we were happy; probably too happy," admits Tretiak. "We still had four games to play and some players on our team were
already convinced that we were stronger than the Canadians." The Russians edged Canada 5-4 in Game Five, but Canada won Game Six 3-2 and Game 7, 4-3.
Game Eight, the final contest in what had evolved into an extraordinary tournament, finished with Canada narrowly defeating the Soviets 6-5 on a late
Paul Henderson goal that has taken on mythical proportions. "I will always count that goal as the most maddening of all goals scored on me in hockey,"
shrugs Tretiak. But the Soviets made an unforgettable impression on millions of television viewers around the world. "The first series against NHL
players convincingly showed that there are no invincible professional teams," states Vladislav. "There is no longer a myth connected with Canadian
pro hockey. There is simply hockey - a game that is appreciated and played well in North America and in Europe. I think it is a good thing for hockey
that we have destroyed the myth of Canadian invincibility."
In 1974, the Soviets faced North Americans again, only on this occasion, it was a team of World Hockey Association All-Stars. This tournament never
held the same cachet as that of its predecessor. In front of the strong netminding of Vladislav Tretiak, the Soviet Union won the series four games to
one with three ties.
The clash of the hockey titans occurred again in December 1975 through to the earliest weeks of 1976. "Our two clubs, the Red Army Club and Krilya
Sovetov (Soviet Wings) were to face the strongest clubs of the NHL," Tretiak recalls.
The Red Army defeated the New York Rangers, then the Soviet Wings dumped the Pittsburgh Penguins. On New Year's Eve 1975, a much-heralded game
between the Red Army and Montreal Canadiens resulted in a 3-3 tie in a monumental contest that is widely regarded as one of the greatest games ever
to have taken place. "Peter Mahovlich, Yvan Cournoyer and I were named the best players of the game," remembers Tretiak. "The Montreal game made a
lasting impression on us. As far as I'm concerned, this is what the game of hockey is all about - fast, full of combinations, rough but not rude with
an exciting plot. Every little detail of that excellent night in Montreal comes back to me. I would love to play it all over again."
The series continued with Buffalo doubling the Soviet Wings, the Wings coming back to double the Blackhawks, Red Army dumping Boston, the Soviet Wings
edging the Islanders and the Flyers defeating the Red Army.
The Soviets won the gold medal at the Winter Games in 1976. They were expected to repeat at Lake Placid in 1980, but it was the host United States
that took the Olympic gold. "The defeat was so heavy on my heart," sighs Tretiak. "Everything was bad in Lake Placid. It is awful when you can't live up
to the expectations of many people. It is so painful."
"It would require four years of persistent work, waiting, bruises, victories and failures to regain the title of Olympic champions," Tretiak explains.
But he and the team made that commitment to their goal. "I wanted to repay to my fans and to myself the debt for the defeat in Lake Placid. We didn't
have any doubt that we would get the title back." Vladislav Tretiak was chosen to carry the Russian flag in the procession of the opening ceremonies.
"I was probably honoured because there were no other athletes participating in the 1984 Olympics who had participated in four Olympic Games in a row,"
The Soviet team captured the Olympic gold as targeted. "Our fans in the stands were triumphant and we were supposed to be joyful too, but there was
no strength left for joy. All had been spent on the ice of the Olympic hockey rink."
An interesting scenario played itself out in 1983. The Montreal Canadiens shocked the National Hockey League when they announced Vladislav Tretiak as
their ninth choice, 143rd overall, in the Entry Draft. In spite of aggressive discussions with Soviet authorities, Canadiens' general manager Serge
Savard was unable to secure Tretiak's release for Montreal. "I would have loved to play in the Forum," Tretiak admits. "I was hoping to one day play
in the NHL. I would have liked to do it even for just one season. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way. I regret not having the chance." The
attempt to extricate Tretiak was a few years premature. Not long afterwards, Soviet players emigrating to North America was a common occurrence.
After fifteen outstanding seasons playing with Red Army, Vladislav Tretiak retired following the 1983-84 season. "I left because I was very tired.
I'd played fifteen years with the Army Club and the National Team without a break. Backup goalies came and went, as did three generations of forwards
and defensemen, but through four Olympic Games, all the important ones with the professionals, all the World Championships, all the Izvestia tournaments,
it was I who played in the net," Tretiak explains. Through his career, Tretiak won three Olympic gold medals, one Olympic silver medal, was part of ten
World Championships, was named Best Goaltender at the World Championships in 1974, 1979, 1981 and 1983 and was the tournament Most Valuable Player at
the 1981 Canada Cup. "For me, it was all, and all of it is with me forever."
Vladislav Tretiak was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1989 - the first Soviet-born and trained player ever selected.
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