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After Tretiak had told this story, he spotted Irina peeking her head around the corner of the living room. He called her over. She ran to him and sat on his lap. Tretiak sniffed at his daughter's neck.
"Irina, who gave you that perfume?"
The child let loose a peal of delighted laughter. " Gretzky!" she squealed.
Tretiak laughed. "My daughter was born the 29th of December," he said, "and the New Year's Eve celebration is the biggest holiday in my country. I have never been home on Irina's birthday, and I have not spent New Year's with my family in 15 years."
He was speaking matter-of-factly, without regret. But the implication was clear. Should he leave the game after the 1984 Olympics, it will not be because of pressure from below. "I feel I play equally now as anytime I have before," he said. "Rich experience makes up for the physical reflexes I have lost. When I was young, I worked with greater psychological and physical effort, but now it is almost instinct knowing where a player will shoot on me."
On the TV, Myshkin gave up another goal on a rebound. "That is a typical Canadian play," Tretiak said. "That is perhaps what has influenced our game the most from our many series with the Canadians. Rebound plays. You know, they must have revised their attitude over there, too. I can remember when we first played the Canadian professionals, they would take shots from the red line. Now they know they can't score from there I think we have learned from each other."
When Tretiak does retire from hockey, he will have more options open to him than most Soviet athletes because of his affiliation with the Communist Party. He spoke of his duties with enthusiasm. Because hockey is Russia's most popular winter sport, Tretiak is a powerful mouthpiece for the Party and a role model for millions of his young countrymen. In light of this, it is almost inconceivable that Soviet authorities would allow Tretiak to finish his career in Montreal although they have recently allowed other Russian hockey players to do just that in Japan Austria and Finland. In Tretiak they have too much to lose.
My life is not mine to dispose of as I wish. When I first heard Tretiak say that, I thought he meant he was trapped. I was confusing politics with something bigger. He meant, I believe, that he now belongs to the Russian people. That gives him tremendous pride and strength and makes whatever sacrifices might be involved in abandoning his dream to play in the NHL—the dream he had shared with Gretzky two years before—seem insignificant.
Before we left his apartment, he pulled the cork on a 15-year-old bottle of cognac and poured it into fresh glasses until they were brimming full. He raised his glass and smiled. "This much is important," he said. "I am a patriot."
Then he toasted our health and drank the cognac down.