The hockey practice, just completed, had not been the mechanical, regimented affair that the Soviet version of the sport is misconceived as being. The Army Club had held an intrasquad scrimmage that was essentially unsupervised. Coach Viktor Tikhonov seldom blew his whistle. There had been no closing windsprints, no unusual drills.
When the practice ended, Tretiak, who's 6'1" and 207 pounds, skated over to do an interview with a Russian television crew. When asked about the remarkable success of the Central Army Club, which had recently clinched its 26th Soviet major league title, Tretiak answered with conviction. "Hard labor, discipline and mutual understanding between the players," he said. "This is the secret. All our working time is devoted to honest labor." Tretiak failed to mention the most important secret of all, however—superior personnel. The Central Army Club, which started this season by winning its first 16 games in its 12-team league, has the pick of all the best young hockey players in the Soviet military, which is to say the entire country since all 18-year-olds must serve in the armed forces. If a young recruit proves talented enough to make the team he is invited to become a lieutenant in the army and make the military his career. It is an offer that few refuse.
When Tretiak came out of the locker room, we shook hands. His eyes were clear and his smile direct. We talked briefly about the practice, then I asked him, through a translator, about his future. He seemed anxious to set the record straight. "I am a member of the Central Army team," he said. "As long as I am playing, I will play for the Central Army team. Next month will be my 14th world championship, and right now that is enough to worry about. Next year will be the Olympics, in which no other Soviet hockey player has played four times. This is very important to me.After that, I will see how I feel I am 20 years playing hockey and I don't want to play badly. Also I am a military man. I am a major in the army. I cannot dispose of myself as I wish."
Twenty minutes later, on the sidewalk outside his apartment building, the snow beginning to collect on his muskrat hat and Nosenko striding purposefully toward us, he would repeat that cryptic yet trenchant phrase to me. It seemed a remarkable confession coming from a man of Tretiak's stature.
The apartment building is built of cinder blocks, eight stories high, dating from the early '60s. Tretiak's manner changed instantly upon entering his home: He became relaxed, proud and polite, whereas before, he had been suspicious and reserved. Tatiana, his wife, blonde, blue-eyed and handsome, greeted us at the door and immediately brought out pairs of tapochi, slippers customarily offered by hosts when you enter a home. As we entered the apartment, Tretiak's son, 10-year-old Dimka, and daughter 6-year-old Irina, peered out from behind the wall that set off the kitchen.
The apartment was smaller than I thought it would be. There were two bedrooms, the kitchen, a modest living room and a hallway dominated by a huge bookcase that doubled as a trophy case. Tretiak began a tour of the premises by showing his medals, which were stacked on top of one another like playing cards. There were the two Olympic gold medals, 1972 and 1976; the silver from 1980; the world championship medals. There was the prestigious Order of Lenin medallion, the highest civilian honor awarded in the Soviet Union. Tretiak is the third hockey player to have received it, preceded by Vsevolod Bobrov and Boris Mikhailov.
The trophy collection extended into the kitchen, in which two hand-painted goalie sticks were hanging above the refrigerator. They were Golden Stick awards, bestowed upon the best hockey player in Europe. Tretiak had been so honored in 1981 and '82. In the children's room were still more awards and mementos—a soapstone Eskimo for being Most Valuable Player in the 1981 Canada Cup, a pewter statuette of a hockey player for Best Goalie in Moscow's Izvestia Cup tournament, a Montreal Canadiens pennant glittering with hundreds of commemorative pins from his travels in Europe and North America. An Oriental-style rug was hanging on one of the walls, and in its center a saber and a shotgun were crossed below the armor of a miniature knight. On the shotgun was engraved: "To the youngest Olympic champion"—a gift to Tretiak in 1972 from the factory workers who made it.
In the living room Tretiak opened his well-stocked bar and poured out generous shots of vodka. "Vahsheh zduhrawv'eh! [Your health!]" he toasted, drinking his down in one easy gulp. The Tretiaks live in comfort because their income is high, although Tatiana, a former Russian literature teacher, no longer works. Central Army Club players are paid a salary of $300 to $400 a month—twice what the average citizen makes—and they also receive bonuses for winning a world championship, an Olympic gold and the like. Tretiak drives a new Volga, not the cheaper, more common Lada, and the family can also do its shopping at stores that are restricted to a select few and that offer meat, dairy supplies, clothing and other staples usually in short supply. Tatiana also showed us Polaroid pictures of the Tretiaks' dacha outside the city, a spacious and elegant two-story summer house.
Tretiak turned on his color television set by remote control. A hockey game was on, the battle for second place in his league between Dynamo and Spartak, and he watched with one eye while we talked. A goal was scored on Vladimir Myshkin, the Dynamo goalie, a long clear shot from the blue line. Myshkin is Tretiak's backup on the National Team, and Tretiak broke a thought off in midsentence. "There's no way he should have allowed that goal," he said, unable to hide the condescension in his tone.
One of the greatest moments in U.S. sports history—the hockey gold medal in the 1980 Games at Lake Placid—might never have occurred were it not for Myshkin. Mention of the 1980 Olympics still makes Tretiak visibly uncomfortable. In the pivotal U.S. U.S.S.R. game, Tretiak started in goal and played the first period. He made a mistake in the closing seconds, leaving the rebound of a shot from beyond center ice lying in front, where Mark Johnson was able to sweep in, pick it up and tie the game at 2-2. Such things happen, even to the best. Nonetheless, Coach Tikhonov reacted by replacing Tretiak with Myshkin for the last two periods. Myshkin, who faced only eight shots all game, allowed the tying and winning goals in the third period, and neither of them could be described as unstoppable. The U.S. won 4-3.