Vladislav Tretiak, international hockey’s most decorated player, turned 60 on April 25. Three Olympic gold medals, ten World Championship gold medals, named to the IIHF Centennial All-Star Team, immortal after the 1972 Summit Series. The entire hockey world says: Hip, Hip Hurray!
Apart from the above mentioned accomplishments, Vladislav Tretiak represented the Soviet national team on 288 occasions, still a world record for goaltenders. He is also the only goaltender with four Olympic participations and he still, to this very day, cannot accept that national team coach Viktor Tikhonov pulled him after the first period (2-2 was the score) of the 1980 Olympic gold medal game, which USA went on to win 4-3 and what was immediately labeled as the “Miracle on Ice”.
With Vladislav Tretiak in goal for the rest of the game, he now could have boasted four Olympic golds, but this is something which we will never know.
Strangely, despite all his amazing accomplishments many of the discussions around the man who today is the President of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation are about “what could have been if…”
Another one is: What if the Soviet sports authorities would have given Tretiak permission to play in the NHL when the Montreal Canadiens did everything to bring him over after he had won his third Olympic gold medal in Sarajevo 1984?
Montreal drafted Tretiak in 1983 very well knowing that he may never be able to come, but the NHL club’s management was hoping that the authorities would let him go as he was already 32, had won everything there was to win and that he wanted this new challenge in life.
But the authorities said no and, just like with the 1980 Olympic gold medal game, we will never know what would happen had Tretiak been allowed to play. Would he be a superstar in the NHL? Would he win Stanley Cups in the city where he played his best hockey? Would he be a top goalie well into his late 30s had he not chosen to defy the decision by his sports authorities the only way he could – by retiring at the age of 32?
Again, we will never know. But what we do know is that despite being denied the opportunity to play for Montreal, he performed at his very best in Montreal.
Despite that these games didn’t provide them with any official IIHF medals or titles, Vladislav Tretiak will tell you that his three most memorable games where all at the Montreal Forum.
September 2, 1972: In game 1 of the Summit Series, the first-ever confrontation between Canada’s best (with all players from the NHL) and the Soviet Union, the 20-year-old Tretiak stunned the entire hockey world by being the top figure in the Soviets’ incredible 7-3 win.
December 31, 1975: As part of the “Super Series”, the first series of games between club teams from the NHL and the two best Soviet league teams, CSKA Moscow and Krylya Sovietov, Tretiak’s Army team CSKA met the Montreal Canadiens in a game which would unofficially determine the best club team in the world. Montreal thoroughly outplayed CSKA, the shots on goal were 38-13 in favour of the NHL club, but with Tretiak performing goaltending magic, the encounter – for ever known as the “New Year’s Eve game” – ended 3-3.
September 13, 1981: In the second edition of the Canada Cup, the Soviet Union and Team Canada met in the best-of-one final game. Canada had a star-studded lineup which included eleven future members of the Hall of Fame and the hosts outshot the Soviets 12-4 in the first period, but Tretiak displayed some of the best goaltending ever seen in the venerable arena. Once Tretiak’s teammates settled after the initial assault, they eventually ran up an 8-1 score, Canada’s biggest defeat on home ice.
It is not a very well-known fact, but Vladislav Tretiak started to play goal at the age of 11, which is by all accounts late. But already seven years later he was named to the Soviet national team and to what would be his first of 13 IIHF World Championships, the 1970 tournament in Stockholm.
He was a backup to the goalie whom Vladislav Tretiak to this very day calls his idol, Viktor Konovalenko. The same pair was selected to the 1971 Worlds in Switzerland, but by that time Tretiak has already overtaken his idol. The 19-year-old was already No. 1.
So while Tretiak was a total unknown to the North American hockey audience in 1972, Europe had known him for two years.
The somewhat strange thing is that Tretiak was judged differently in Europe and in North America for many years of his career.
Due to his sensational performance in the 1972 Summit Series, Tretiak immediately became a super-hero in Canada and the perception of him as the superior goaltender from Europe – and thus by far the best European at that position – just grew with the 1975 New Year’s Eve game and the 1981 Canada Cup rout.
But back in Europe, during the ‘70s, the European hockey community generally considered the Czechoslovaks Vladimir Dzurilla and Jiri Holecek as stronger goaltenders than Tretiak. And quite often whenever Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union met in many of their epic World Championship games in the 1970s, the Czechoslovaks came up on top in their head-to-head games, although the Soviet team won the gold nine times out of ten.
But it was the 1981 Canada Cup final – and the sensational 8-1 score which would have been something totally different had the CCCP team had a human in net – that cemented Tretiak’s position as not only the best in Europe, but the best in the world.
Sadly, and due to the totalitarian regime of that era, Tretiak played for only three more years before he decided to quit.
Five year after his retirement, Vladislav Tretiak was – as the first European player ever – inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame, a monumental break from tradition of the HHoF. In the first year of its inception in 1997, Tretiak was inducted to the IIHF Hall of Fame.
When the IIHF named the six-man Centennial All-Star Team as part of the federations’ 100-Year Anniversary celebrations, Vladislav Tretiak was voted goaltender by a landslide.
Despite that Russia has developed many excellent goaltenders since then, everyone will tell you the same – there has not been one even close to Vladislav Tretiak.
Here is to you, Vladik!