Apr 082010

What Hockey has Meant to Vladislav Tretiak

IPicture of Vladislav Tretiak 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.’ “

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Mar 152010

The goalie grinned, unfixed his pad and threw it from his leg,
Then told about a shot he’d stopped one night in Winnipeg

“That shot,” said he, “was moving fast. I can almost feel it yet:
For it bent me in the middle and it hurled me through the net,

Through the backboards and the red brick wall and when  I scrambled to my feet
I discovered I was standing on the sidewalk in the street!

But I sold the puck to someone (that was clever don’t you think?)
For a buck to buy a ticket to get back inside the rink.

“Some shot!” laughed the defenseman, “But one I’ll not forget
I took myself one night and, as it whistled o’er the net

They say it took a brick out in the arena near the roof
And it won a game a mile away—but of course I have no proof.”

“That’s the very night,” he said, “That I bodychecked Bill Gawk
And the last I saw of William he was sailing o’er the clock!

But the next day in the paper  I was stunned to read the news
That he’d played the last ten minutes for a team in Syracuse.

Feb 032010

A soft spoken, articulate young man named Ken Dryden was drafted by the Boston Bruins in 1964 but his pro rights were traded to Montreal for a couple of young players who never played a shift in the NHL. But Dryden opted for a college education and played for Cornell University. He returned to professional hockey in 1970-71 with the Canadiens’ farm team in Halifax.

When the Canadiens opened the playoffs, they were pitted against the powerful Boston Bruins, led by superstars Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito. The Bruins had smashed a fistful of records on their way to a first place finish. They had won 15 more games than the Canadiens and finished with 24 more points.

The Bruins were stunned to see Ken Dryden—a raw rookie—start in goal for Montreal. Had Scotty Bowman lost his mind? They’d show his rookie netminder what playoff pressure was all about.

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