Tretiak: 'Team Canada was stronger'
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Vladislav Tretiak has devoted most of his life to Russian hockey, both as one of the greatest goalies of all time and now as the country's hockey leader. No one is more upset than he that the gold-medal contenders lost in the Olympic quarterfinals.
In his first interview with a North American media outlet since his team's early exit, the general manager of Russia's Olympic team and president of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation told ESPN.com on Saturday that he's just as disappointed as all the passionate Russian hockey fans, but everything was done to give Russia its best chance to win here.
"Before the [quarterfinal] game with Canada, I said that it was very unfortunate that two great teams met in a position where one would have to be eliminated and without a medal," Tretiak said through a translator. "We had the best team that we could put together. But Team Canada was stronger, and there's nothing else you can say. They were faster than us. We couldn't do anything with their speed."
Last month, Tretiak was re-elected to a five-year term to stay on as federation president, a stay that would run through the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Under his helm as president, Russia has won bronze and two gold medals at the men's world championships, and he believes that success will continue despite the stunning loss here.
"It's sport, you can't always win," Tretiak said. "Even when I played, you were never guaranteed results."
In a separate interview with ESPN.com and The Hockey News earlier on Saturday, KHL president Alexander Medvedev underlined his feelings about Russia's early exit Wednesday.
"It was a big disappointment," Medvedev said. "Everybody dreamed about the final between Canada and Russia. I appreciate the performance of the Canada team. They deserved the win, but I don't agree it was a great game. A great game is when it's a tough competition all the way around like it was yesterday between Slovakia and Canada. ...
"Surprisingly with the Russian stars, everybody anticipated strong performances of [Alex] Ovechkin and [Evgeni] Malkin and [Ilya] Kovalchuk, but it was not at the top of their level, including the physical play. Why it happened? It's a question for coaches and specialists to answer. Canada didn't allow Russia to demonstrate their skills."
One of the main criticisms of the Russian Olympic team is the belief the nine KHL players didn't mesh with the NHL stars. But both Tretiak and Medvedev disagreed with that notion.
"I don't think so," Medvedev said. "Because for two years in a row, there was no difference between NHL and KHL players in Quebec [2008 world championships] and Bern, Switzerland [2009 worlds]. We had nine KHL players. I don't agree with those who say KHL players were weaker than NHL players. Actually, it was the [whole] team that failed."
Said Tretiak, "For two years, we were world champions because we did come together as a team."
Tretiak also denied another widely held belief that there was outside pressure to select that many KHL players.
"No there was no pressure to pick players from the KHL," Tretiak said. "The coach [Vyacheslav Bykov], in fact, picks the players. The general manager does not actively participate in picking the players."
Four years ago, when Russia beat Canada in the quarterfinals at Torino, Italy, it was GM Wayne Gretzky and the Canadians who needed to explain themselves. Now it's Tretiak and the Russians. That's just sport, Tretiak said.
"It is a difficult tournament; there's a factor of luck," Tretiak said. "Just like in 1981 when we won the Canada Cup 8-1 in the final, was the Canadian team worse than us? No. They also had the best players. But in that game, we were better, our luck was better. If we played eight games instead of one game [here in Vancouver], nobody knows how it would turn out. But in this game, they were better."
Tretiak cares deeply about his country and the national team. He believes he has a strong vision for the team moving forward and hopes to be able to deliver on it.
"The most important thing for us is to keep the team bonded," he said. "Only these players can help us in the future with world championships, and obviously we need to get ready for 2014. We have to learn our lessons, but we also need to move forward and keep our heads on straight. What happened happened. We have to keep on going."