Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - One on One with Vladislav Tretiak
Spotlight
One on One Treasure Chest Pinnacle Legends Video
One on One with Vladislav Tretiak
Vladislav Tretiak was a 14-time Soviet League First Team All-Star
Vladislav Tretiak earned Soviet League First Team
All-Star recognition an incomparable fourteen consecutive seasons between 1970-71 and 1983-84.
(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.

Tretiak backstopped Central Red Army to 13 Soviet League championships in 15 seasons.
Tretiak backstopped the Central Red Army to
thirteen Soviet League championships
in fifteen seasons.
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 life."

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 in hockey.

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."

Vladislav Tretiak stunned Canadians with his outstanding goaltending for the Soviet Union during the Summit Series in 1972.
Vladislav earned his reputation in North America by stunning Canadians with his outstanding goaltending for the Soviet Union during the Summit Series in 1972. Scouting reports indicated that goaltending would be the Soviets' weak spot!
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," Tretiak smiles.

After retiring, Tretiak was a goaltending coach for the Chicago Blackhawks
After retiring, Tretiak was a goaltending coach for the Chicago Blackhawks. A prodigy named Ed Belfour wears Number 20 in recognition of Tretiak's inspired tutoring.
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.

Kevin Shea is the Manager of Special Projects and Publishing at the Hockey Hall of Fame.