Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Nostalgia for old Soviet Hockey

Vladislav Tretiak

You can't help but feel a twinge of nostalgia for the old Russian hockey teams and players of the Cold War. Beyond the Miracle on Ice, there were decades of competition, hundreds of players who went through the Soviet system but never saw the possibility of playing in the National Hockey League, and intrigue as well:
Vladislav Tretiak might be the Olympic hockey general manager who is coming in from the cold.

Tretiak, president of the Russian ice hockey federation, was named Monday as his country's GM for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. While this clearly is an upgrade over Pavel Bure in Turin 2006 -- at the time, we noted that Bure was known as the Russian Rocket and not the Russian Rocket Scientist -- Team Russia still would have been better served by tapping into one of the great hockey brains: Igor Larionov, The Professor, who has a superior handle on the NHL players who will represent Russia. As an added fillip, Larionov, who played in Vancouver, is revered in that city, but then Tretiak has been worshipped in Canada pretty much since the 1972 Summit Series.

On one of those Red Army tours in the early 1980s, Tretiak shut out the Montreal Canadiens and received perhaps the longest standing ovation at the Forum afforded a player not named Maurice Richard or Guy Lafleur. (The Canadiens would later draft Tretiak although he retired before ever having the chance to play in the NHL. In 1989, he became the first Russian elected to the Toronto-based Hockey Hall of Fame.) The goalie has been embraced as an honorary Canadian, which gets us to the point.

A former member of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and a Montreal journalist who covers about security issues write in a new book that CSIS suspected Tretiak of recruiting Russian sympathizers in Canada to provide intelligence during his frequent visits to the country in the 1990s.

This isn't as sexy as the revelations that figure skater Katarina Witt was obliged to cooperate with Stasi, the East German spy agency, but odds are excellent that next February the man who has was the Order of Lenin will be asked about the authors' contention before he is asked about the power play.

If Tretiak was a recruiter in the 1990s, it just means he was working for a different flavor of Russian intelligence. Espionage never goes away, governments do. What is constant, though, is the hockey and that's all Tretiak should have to answer for.

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