Vladislav Tretiak was never given a chance to play in the NHL, but he captured the hearts of many North American fans when he helped the Soviets push Canada to a gigantic eight game battle in the 1972 Summit Series.
Tretiak was the hero of the tournament. Not only was he a hero on the Russian front, but he became a hero on the Canadian side as well. In fact no Russian player has the respect of Canadians more so than Tretiak.
Tretiak was an unheard of 20 year old at the beginning of September 1972. He was dismissed as the weakest link of the Soviet "amateurs" due largely to a single scouting trip by Team Canada. Scouts Bob Davidson and John McLellan spent just 4 days in Russia and saw Tretiak in just one intra-squad contest. Tretiak allowed 8 goals and the Canadians chuckled at the man that was supposed to play in nets against Team Canada just a couple of weeks later.
The scouts made a huge mistake by only watching the one game. As it turned out Tretiak had spent much of the previous night partying as he was getting married soon after. As a result he played horribly before Team Canada's watchful eyes in the stands.
In the end, Tretiak chuckled the hardest. "Maybe it was a trick," hinted Tretiak years later, referring to the Russian's mysterious ways of playing possum with their sporting opponents.
Team Canada's players fully believed their scouts' observations early in game one in Montreal. Tretiak allowed a goal just 30 seconds into the game, and before the 7 minute mark it was 2-0 Canada.
But from that point on Tretiak shut the door. Tretiak emerged seemingly from nowhere to rob and frustrate Canadian shooters who peppered him relentlessly..
Canada outshot the Soviets in 6 of the 8 Summit Series games including game 4 when Tretiak stopped 21 third period shots in a 5-3 Soviet win. And while Tretiak's save percentage of .884 isn't spectacular by today's standards, his play was spectacular by any era's standards.
Ultimately, Tretiak came up one spectacular save short. Paul Henderson's goal on a defenseless Tretiak with 34 seconds left is the series' defining moment.
"God give him that goal," Tretiak said. "I wish Henderson not fall down behind net because maybe he never get up and never be in front of net and score.
"Lucky, just lucky. I make first save. Defense no help me, why? (Valeri) Vasiliev and (Yuri) Liapkin no help me."
Despite what Tretiak termed as his "most maddening of all goals scored on me in hockey," he has always been proud of what his team was able to accomplish in the series, and rightfully so. He and his comrades showed that Europeans, Russians in particular, were every bit as good if not better than Canada's NHL stars.
By the time of his first Canada Cup appearance in 1976 Tretiak was already a seasoned veteran and the player the Soviets relied on in pressured situations. Even though the Soviet Union came to the 1976 tournament with a lot of new faces the fourth place was seen as a failure.
Tretiak had many memorable moments in his illustrious career. When reflecting back at his marvellous hockey career he picked a rather surprising moment as his career highlight.
It wasn't the gruelling eight game series in 1972, or any of the three Olympic gold medals. It wasn't even the 1972 Summit Series or the 1981 Canada Cup triumph when his team romped Canada 8-1 in the final. No, it was the 1978 triumph during the World Championships in Prague, home of the two time defending champion Czechoslovakian team.
"I remember playing the Czechs in the decisive game of the 1978 World Championships. In the first game we lost 4-6, and in order for us to get back the championship title we needed to win the last game by two goals. We won 3-1, and became the World Champions, and that was a feat. We were amazingly and infinitely happy. No one had given us a chance."
With that Tretiak started a phenomenal string of 45 straight World Championship games where he went undefeated. It lasted between 1978-83. The Soviets lost the 1980 Olympic gold to a bunch of American college kids but Tretiak & Co bounced back from that with a vengeance and cruised past their opponents for the next few years.
In the 1981 Canada Cup tournament Tretiak played better than ever and captured the MVP award after posting a brilliant 1.33 GAA in 6 games. In five of these games he yielded just one goal. Years later Tretiak said he had an awful pre-game warm up before the final. It bothered him a lot but he got to make a few tough stops in the beginning of the game which restored his confidence.
Tretiak was constantly faced with pressure.
" When I came to be called one of the world's best goaltenders, I found that it was a huge responsibility, especially in my last playing years. I didn't care so much where and with whom I was playing, but I had to play for my reputation. It was as if I had been given some sort of quality stamp, and I had to maintain that level. I always felt that I didn't have the right to make a mistake. So I began to practice more to prove myself in every game."
Tretiak's darkest professional moment came at the Lake Placid Olympics in 1980. An unheralded group of college kids from USA somehow beat the mighty Soviet hockey machine in what is forever remembered as the Miracle on Ice. Tretiak was pulled, a true rarity in his career, after what was deemed to be a weak first period.
"Yes, I will never forget that as long a I live," Tretiak told IIHF.com. "Coach Viktor Tikhonov pulled me from the decisive game against USA after the first period. He told me that I made a bad mistake on Mark Johnson's 2-2 goal and that reserve Myshkin would play the rest. I would have had four gold medals if not for Tikhonov's bad judgment."
Vladislav Alexandrovich Treitak was born in Orudyevo, Moscow on April 25, 1952. As a little boy he wanted to become an airline pilot like his father. His interests in sports came naturally as his mother was a very good bandy hockey player. She gave a young Vladislav his first skating lessons and at first he played as a forward. When Tretiak was 11 years old he donned the goalie pads for the first time after sustaining a serious injury. It was the start of a spectacular hockey career.
Some of his many personal achievements include being named the First All-Star Team Goalie in the Soviet Elite League during 14 consecutive seasons. He won thirteen league titles with CSKA Moscow and was named Soviet player of the year a record five times. Tretiak won the Gold Stick three times, given to the outstanding player in Europe. He collected over 90 medals in international competition, including three golds and one silver in the Olympics, 10 World Championships golds and 12 European Cup championship golds.
Tretiak never did get a chance to fulfill a dream and play in the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens who drafted him in 1983. During the cold war the Communist government were not about to let a lieutenant-colonel in the Soviet army, not to mention national hero and public relations vehicle, slip away to North America, even if it meant a lot of dollars. Varying reports hinted that the Canadiens and Soviets were in negotiations to secure his release following the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics, although it is unlikely the Soviets were ever serious about releasing him.
Unhappy with the refusal to let him play with the Habs, and upset at coach Tikhonov's strict ways, Tretiak opted to retire after Sarajevo.
He became involved with the NHL after his playing days were over, being the goalie coach / consultant for the Chicago Blackhawks. There he helped goalies like Eddie Belfour and Dominik Hasek. Tretiak also opened a hockey school near Moscow and in cities in North America.
While he may never have played in the NHL, Tretiak did receive the highest honour a hockey player can get when he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1989. By doing so he became the first European-born player without any NHL experience and first Russian player ever elected to the hallowed hall.