For followers of international hockey, the Sarajevo Games may be best remembered as the fourth, and final, Olympics for the great Soviet goaltender, Vladislav Tretiak. It was he who set the tone of things to come in the hockey competition when, two days before the opening ceremonies, he skated over to a Canadian journalist watching the Soviets practice and said, "We very good. We very hungry." Then he smiled slyly and skated away.
Tretiak is the heart and soul of the Soviet team. When he's intense, he infuses the Soviet lineup with that quality. He didn't want to leave Sarajevo with less than the gold medal. There would be no Miracle on Ice as there had been four years ago in Lake Placid, when the Soviets were upset by the startling young team from the U.S. "If the Russians don't win any medal in the Olympics but this one," a Soviet fan said, "they will say 'thank you' to the other athletes for participating. But with hockey, no. They must have the gold. To lose two times in a row is impossible."
Indeed, to score two times in a row proved impossible against the Soviets in Sarajevo. Over seven games, they out-scored their opponents 48-5. Tretiak played six of those games (Vladimir Myshkin, who replaced Tretiak for the last two periods in the '80 U.S.-U.S.S.R. game, was in goal against Italy). Tretiak allowed a total of four goals (an average of 0.67), achieving shutouts in the two medal-round contests, a 4-0 defeat of Canada and a 2-0 victory over Czechoslovakia in Sunday's final. He was seldom tested, but when the opponents did get a scoring chance, Tretiak never looked better. An example came in the game with Canada when the score was tied 0-0 halfway through the second period. Canadian defenseman Bruce Driver came out of the penalty box, fielded a long clearing pass and broke in alone on Tretiak from center ice. Tretiak made a fine kick save, and a minute and a half later Vladimir Kovin scored to give the Soviets a lead they would never lose. After his shutout of archrival Czechoslovakia, Tretiak was mobbed by his teammates and embraced by coach Viktor Tikhonov, who told him, "Thank you for the wonderful game, for your great will and character, which you pass along to the other players." Was it the last game the 31-year-old Tretiak would play for the Soviet national team? Tikhonov would only say, "That question has not been resolved yet."
Tikhonov did, however, resolve the question of whether Tretiak would be moving on to the National Hockey League, the subject of wide speculation. Asked when Tretiak would be playing his first game for the Montreal Canadiens, who drafted him last June, Tikhonov blurted, "In 2,000 years." As for this September's Canada Cup, even Tretiak was skeptical. He made a finger slash across his jugular and then, referring to his wife, said, "Tatiana will kill me if anymore hockey."
To North American opponents, those words must bring a sigh of relief. To fans, they mean a sad loss.