Tretiak plays hockey 11 months of the year, taking a vacation only in early summer. When he is not playing for the national team he is the regular goal-tender for the Central Army Club. Not surprisingly, the Central Army Club has had the best record in its nine-team league the past few seasons. All the teams in the major league are supported by various Russian trade unions or factories, not by the state as such. Spartak, the most popular team among the fans because of its hell-for-leather style, represents a cooperative of light industries. Dynamo is sponsored by the police and the KGB. Games involving the Central Army Club, Spartak and Dynamo always sell out the Palace of Sports, but when Traktor comes from Siberia to Moscow to play Lokomotiv, there are empty seats everywhere. Just like Los Angeles when the Buffalo Sabres drop by.
Although Tretiak has been Russia's No. 1 goaltender for several years, he was hardly considered in a class with Dryden and Esposito until he began to outplay them a few weeks ago. In fact, after the Russians were upset by the Czechs for the world title last April, there were rumors in Moscow that Vsevolod Bobrov, who had replaced Tarasov as the Soviet head coach, was going to option Tretiak to Siberia. "He had a terrible glove hand," said Stanislas Kaskta, the Czech coach. "I don't know how he did it, but he must have learned to use his glove hand during the summer."
That he did. After every workout this summer Bobrov and his assistant, Boris Kulagin, kept Tretiak on the ice for at least another hour and forced him to face the firing squad, a shooting machine that fires a puck every four seconds at speeds up to 100 mph. Tretiak now owns the fastest glove hand in the U.S.S.R. "He certainly is not the same goalie we used to plan our game around," said Kjell Svensson, Sweden's coach.
Tretiak's development also reflects the total commitment of the Soviet coaches, who can devote all their time to coaching because they do not have television shows to tape or newspaper columns to write. Last Friday, for instance, Bobrov and Kulagin spent 90 minutes on the ice in the morning with the team that was to play Canada that night, and then they worked for 90 minutes more with the 12 players who were not going to play.
After those players practiced their passing, stick handling and shooting for about half an hour, they scrimmaged for a solid hour. Nonstop. No substitutions. All the while Kulagin stood against the boards with a microphone in his hand and barked pertinent comments as the players swirled about.
"Bystree, bystree!" he shouted. "Faster, faster! You can do nothing without moving!" A forward made a bad pass, fell down and took his time getting up again. "Shto ty delayesh?" Kulagin screamed angrily. "What are you doing?" Later one of the players tried a solo down the ice and was easily stopped. Kulagin shook his head at the guilty individual. "Can't you count to two?" he said, meaning that he had better pass the puck the next time—or else.
Reflecting on the Russian workouts, Harry Sinden said, "Why couldn't we think of using a microphone on the ice during practice? No, we have to yell at players, and they either don't hear us or don't want to hear us. And the way they work at passing is fascinating.
"Look at it this way. The best product of the Canadian teaching system the past few years probably has been Gilbert Perreault. He is a magnificent individual performer, but he has no real idea how to use the other four players on the ice with him. It's not his fault. No one has taken the time to teach him. Its that simple.
Or is it? The Socialist system, of course, attempts to play down the so-called "cult of personality" and emphasizes attitudes of cooperation, dedication and anonymity. There are no postgame television interviews, no star-of-the-game shows, no locker room interviews for the afternoon papers, no endorsements of automobiles or clothes or shaving cream. Bobrov and Kulagin will say only, "The goaltender was good"—never "Tretiak was good"—and if someone suggests that Valeri Kharlamov played a strong game, they answer, "All the left wings were very good."
Sinden sees the merits of the Soviet approach, although he doubts that such tactics—particularly downgrading individual performances—could survive very long in the NHL. "The ironic thing," Sinden said, "is that our best players in this series against the Russians have been the so-called nonstars—people like Bobby Clarke and Paul Henderson and Gary Bergman, to mention a few. Except for the Esposito brothers, all of our so-called stars have been total busts."