What Hockey has Meant to Vladislav Tretiak
I was never so happy in my life as I was the first time I was a member of a world championship team. That was in 1970 when I was 18, serving as backup goaltender to Victor Konovalenko, a wonderful goalie with fantastic intuition. I don’t know of any Soviet player of that era who commanded more respect than Victor. He was respected for his sense of fair play, his devotion to hockey and for his valour and steadfastness.Often it seemed the pucks flew into his glove by themselves. He was twice my age but there was a bond between us. He patiently revealed to me the secrets of the goaltender’s art and he knew them all. Hadn’t he played on seven world championship teams? Hadn’t he been an Olympic gold medallist? At that young age, more than anything else, I wanted to be the kind of man, the cool competitor, that Konovalenko was. I was also helped to the top by such world-renowned players as the brilliant forward Anatoli Firsov and the reliable defenseman Alexander Ragulin.
Later on, prior to the famous Soviet-Canada series in 1972, I would meet the fabulous Canadian goaltender Jacques Plante, who was kind enough to give me some tips on how to play the top NHL forwards prior to the Summit Series. Had it not been for that unique tournament, perhaps I would not have had an opportunity to have my own puck stopping abilities compared to future Hall of Fame goalies like Ken Dryden and Tony Esposito. More than any other hockey event, the 1972 tournament made it shockingly clear that there was very little difference between the Soviet national team players and the top NHLers. Suddenly there was renewed interest in world and Olympic hockey tournaments, and beginning in 1976, in the establishment of the popular Canada Cup competitions. Today, as a fitting finale to hockey’s first century, we have the best of professional players competing at the Winter Olympics in Japan with a world-wide audience anticipating a thrilling race for the gold medals and the coveted title “Olympic Champions.”
If you want to hear more about what the hockey experience was like from his Russian persepctive, you may want to take a look at Vladislav’s book Tretiak : The Legend. At Amazon, Brian E. Erland says it “…provides an illuminating glimpse of those years… and examines the volatile games that took place when the ‘Eastern Block’ collided with the ‘Powers of the West.’ “