7 . Tretiak's goal: Educate Hawks // Chicago Tribune

By Neil Milbert Tribune staff reporter 

The best goaltender the National Hockey League never had was back from Moscow to continue his mission of helping the Blackhawks someday win the Stanley Cup, and he was all aglow when he left the United Center on Sunday night.

The Hawks' goaltender consultant, Vladislav Tretiak, had just watched Jocelyn Thibault record his second shutout in as many games.

Shutouts are for Tretiak what the Bolshoi Ballet is for devotees of dance, and the critic in him was applauding Thibault's performance.

"He looks solid," said Tretiak. "Very solid. Sometimes this year when I was here I would see him go down too early. Not now.

"Jocelyn plays the same style as Patrick Roy, both butterfly guys. When he plays deep I don't like [that] because if you are a full butterfly guy, you open the door high.

"Play simple. Each goalie is different. If [you] do something well, keep doing it. If you don't do it well, don't do it in games. Develop that technique in practice.

"I watch how you play the game, what kind of mistakes you make. I watch video. I think: 'Why was this goal scored? What way was it scored?' Afterward I have meetings with our goalies. I show them videos and their mistakes. Then I make special exercises so they won't make them again. Good practice, good game. Bad practice, bad game."

Coach Brian Sutter welcomes the perspective that Tretiak provides. "If we all walked away for two weeks and then came back it would give us a much sharper perspective of what's going on here," said Sutter. "He makes sure he goes over all the games. When he comes back we talk lots about games and playersnot just the goaliesand people's mental makeup.

"The insight somebody like Vlady can give doesn't surprise me."

It is an insight that comes from a former lieutenant colonel in the Soviet army, a cold warrior during an era when even the hockey arena was considered a battlefield. For most of his career his figurative commanding general was Viktor Tikhonov, the famous Soviet coach whose game plans usually succeeded in a land where five-year plans continually failed.

"The politburo and big government people see every game," remembered Tretiak. "Big tomatoes push Tikhonov; Tikhonov push us. Lots of pressure. Every competition, every tournament, every game. Only [a] gold medal is good enough. Silver medal is bad. Competition all the time. Sport was political. They try to show Communism was better than capitalism."

By the time he retired in 1984 at age 32, Tretiak had earned three Olympic gold medals and 10 World Championship tournament gold medals. He was selected Soviet Player of the Year five times.

Although Tretiak was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in 1983, the door hadn't opened wide enough to let him into the NHL. To his great disappointment the Soviet Ice Hockey Federation wouldn't permit him to play for the Canadiens.

Nevertheless, even though he never played in a single NHL game, in 1989 Tretiak was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. After the awards dinner in a Toronto hotel, Tretiak went to the bar for a nightcap. There he ran into Bob Pulford, the Hawks' senior vice president who then was their general manager, and Mike Keenan, who then was their coach. By the time the bartender gave last call, Tretiak had become the Blackhawks' goaltending consultant.

"Mr. Pulford and Keenan come to me and congratulate me," reminisced Tretiak. "Then Mr. Pulford asked me: 'Do you want to work for the Chicago Blackhawks?' For me, it was a big, big surprise. I said to him: 'I'm available. Yes, I would like that very much.' He called my agent and that's how I came to Chicago.

"Unbelievable! I had never been to Chicago and never even had studied English. Want to know why? Because I think [the] Soviet Union and America would be competing as long as I lived.

"Now I am working for the Chicago Blackhawks for 11 seasons. I travel back and forth between Moscow and Chicago all the time. I go to Norfolk to work with goalies on our farm team. I have a tournament for young players from Europe and the U.S. and Canada in Chicago and in Russia. I have a hockey school and every year I teach 500 goalies. Players from Norway, Sweden, Germany and Finland come to my school. I send five Russian youth teams to the U.S.

"I have so many friends in the U.S. Wayne Gretzky is my good friend. He comes to my home in Moscow for two weeks. We work together, we practice together, we go to a restaurant and laugh together. I hear the American national anthem and it is something precious to me.

"It's all like a wonderful dream. It's a good life."

Making a good life even better are Thibault's back-to-back shutouts and league-leading 25 triumphs. 
Copyright 2002 The Chicago Tribune