Tretiak says Russian team will be half NHLers
The Canadian PressBy Arpon Basu, The Canadian Press Posted Sunday, November 29, 2009 4:38 PM ET
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Tretiak leads Russian hunt for gold in 2010
MONTREAL - General manager Vladislav Tretiak predicts half of the Russian Olympic hockey team will likely come from the domestic Kontinental Hockey League, but he remains hopeful that the NHL's best will still be playing in the Olympics four years from now.

On his first scouting trip ahead of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Tretiak was in Montreal on Saturday night to watch the centrepiece of his team, Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin, terrorize the Canadiens in a 4-3 shootout win.

He also had dinner prior to the game with injured Habs defenceman Andrei Markov, who is aiming for a return from a lacerated tendon in his ankle by early January, about a month ahead of schedule.

While the Russians will lean heavily on their NHL stars like Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk, Tretiak said expects a significant number of unfamiliar faces on the roster as well.

"Maybe half and half, 12 and 12,'' Tretiak said after Saturday's game when asked how many KHL players could make the Russian squad. "The KHL is a good league, the hockey is very tough. We have maybe 10 or 12 good players. It's going to be very tough for the coaches to make the team because there are so many good players; there are good players in the NHL and good players in the KHL. Everybody has a shot to play for Russia.''

Tretiak, who also serves as president of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation, is concerned about the possibility that the NHL will pull out of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Ovechkin, Malkin and Kovalchuk have already said they will play on home soil regardless of whether or not the NHL participates, but Tretiak hopes it never comes to that.

"It's special because the best players in the world are playing in the Olympic Games,'' said Tretiak, who won three Olympic golds and a silver medal over his Hall of Fame career as a goaltender for the former Soviet Union. "It's a special time for each hockey player, it doesn't matter (if they are) Canadian, American or Russian, because it's a special competition. An Olympic medal is different than a world championship (medal). I hope everybody comes to Sochi.''

Tretiak gave almost all of his answers in English when speaking to a handful of reporters after Saturday night's game. But when asked what the consequences would be for the NHL's relationship with the Russian federation and the KHL should the league decide not to go to Sochi, he preferred to speak in his native tongue, ensuring his words were chosen carefully in what remains a very touchy issue on both sides.

"We have no problems with the NHL, we have a good relationship,'' Tretiak said, with a Russian reporter serving as an interpreter. "There is friction between the two leagues, but we have to respect (each other's) contracts, that is very important. We would like to adopt a law that would make it harder for KHL players to leave (for the NHL), because we invest a lot in our young players.

"I think everyone would benefit (from the NHL's participation in the Olympics). It would be a win-win situation. I hope we will be able to find common points with the NHL.''

As far as the 2010 team is concerned, Tretiak caught a fantastic glimpse of his team's leader Saturday night as Ovechkin put on a dazzling display, scoring a goal and an assist and looking dangerous on nearly every shift.

"Every time I watch him I enjoy it, I would like to watch him all day,'' Tretiak said. "He has so much energy. He plays a little bit different than Soviet Union hockey players. He looks like he is half Canadian and half Russian.''

Tretiak also got to see one of Russia's potential future goaltending stars in Washington rookie Semyon Varlamov, who improved his record this season to 10-1-2 with Saturday's win.

Varlamov, who was born four years after Tretiak retired as a player in 1984, admitted afterwards that he had to do his best to ignore the fact a living legend was in the building evaluating his play.

"If I was looking for him, I would have probably allowed 10 goals and not three,'' he said through an interpreter. "I'm thinking about the Olympics, but I want to focus on my own team for now.''

Varlamov's .919 save percentage and 2.39 goals-against average are comparable to fellow Russians Evgeni Nabokov (.921 save percentage and 2.37 GAA) and Ilya Bryzgalov (.919 and 2.12), with all three in the top 15 in the NHL in both categories. Edmonton's Nikolai Khabibulin, currently out with a back injury, is also in the mix even though his stats (.909 and 3.03) are not as impressive.

"It will be difficult for Varlamov because Bryzgalov is playing unbelievable, Nabokov is playing unbelievable, it's a big competition,'' Tretiak said. "I told him today he has a chance, because three goalies will come to the Olympic Games. It doesn't matter who is number one, two or three. It is important to be inside the Russian hockey team.''

Tretiak was heading home to Russia on Sunday, but he said he plans to be in Chicago on Dec. 22 to watch Nabokov's San Jose Sharks take on the Blackhawks during a scouting trip that will include stops in Pittsburgh, Phoenix and Florida in the final days before the Russian team is named on Christmas Day.

Russia, the two-time defending world champion, will be going to Vancouver as a favourite to snap an 18-year Olympic gold medal drought. But Tretiak warned that anything can happen in a short tournament.

It is something he knows all too well as he was on the wrong end of the Miracle on Ice, when the U.S. won the gold medal at the 1980 Winter Olympics by beating the Soviet Union 4-3 then beating Finland 4-2, leaving the only blemish on Tretiak's otherwise perfect Olympic record.

"It will be very tough, because there's a lot of competition,'' Tretiak said. "Team Canada, the U.S., the Czechs, the Finns, Sweden, everybody has a shot to win the Olympic Games. Every game is a final for us, every game. The concentration is on the first game, then if you win, the next game. You can't look to the future. It's very important, because I have a good experience. In 1980, we looked at the U.S. and thought the U.S. wasn't a good team, so we prepared for the Czech Republic. Then Team USA beat us.''

Now, 30 years later, Tretiak is hoping a mix of NHL and KHL stars won't suffer the same fate.

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