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Tretiak says he has Putin, Harper backing to recreate 1972 Cold War on ice

The Canadian Press
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The Hockey News
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Tretiak says he has Putin, Harper backing to recreate 1972 Cold War on ice

The Canadian Press
By:

Tretiak is spearheading a proposal to re-stage the '72 Summit Series, pitching an eight-game confrontation between Russia's best hockey players and those of Canada this August on the 35th anniversary of the epic original.

"It was the most important event in hockey history between our hockey superpowers, Russia and Canada," the legendary goaltender, now 54, said Wednesday at the Russian Embassy in Ottawa.

"A new series could prolong the tradition of 1972."

Tretiak, who sits in the Russian parliament, says he has the support of both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

That prompted the Russian ambassador to Canada, Georgiy Mamedov, to quip that the series will include two "enforcers."

But even the backing of two iron-willed leaders like Putin and Harper stands for little against the might of the modern National Hockey League and its players' union - a fact recognized Wednesday by the prime minister.

"Ultimately, this is something that's in the hands of the NHL, the NHLPA and various hockey bodies," Harper said outside the House of Commons. "But I'd certainly encourage them to consider the idea. They might even make some money at it."

With the NHL not yet onside, a 2007 Summit Series remains more fantasy than reality. In fact, the series may be more leverage point than fantasy.

Asked about NHL endorsement for the project, Tretiak launched into an impassioned argument about the current legal impasse between the Russian Ice Hockey Federation - of which Tretiak is president - and the NHL over recognition of player contracts.

Tretiak is clearly angry at NHL clubs poaching young Russian talent still under contract without compensating their Russian club teams.

He said negotiations with the NHL for an August hockey series can't really get underway until the contract dispute is settled through the International Ice Hockey Federation.

And Tretiak enlisted the passion of Canadian hockey followers to help get the deal done.

"I hope the Canadian fans help for us NHL to make a good deal to play against Team Canada this year," he said in halting English.

It is an enticing carrot on offer.

The prospect of pitting young Russian firebrands like Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk against a new generation of Canadian stars led by Sidney Crosby in an eight-game, home-and-home series is deeply appealing.

"I would like to see a new generation of Russians and Canadians to see new games - not only to remember it but to see a new Summit Series," said Tretiak.

Alex Kovalev, captain of Russia's Olympic hockey team, likes the idea.

"It's going to be great for Canada and Russia and the fans," the Canadiens winger said in Montreal. "Some people say it's not going to be as exciting as it was (in 1972), but I think it's going to be more exciting.

"That's what people enjoy, that kind of rivalry."

Tretiak was practically a kid himself when he backstopped the Soviet Union against the best of the NHL in what was at first predicted to be a Canadian sweep.

Instead, the Soviets introduced North Americans to a new, disciplined style of hockey that emphasized puck movement and five-man attacks - digging Canada's star-studded lineup into a deep hole along the way.

Canada needed to win the final three games in a row, all on Russian ice, to eke out the series win on Paul Henderson's historic goal in the final minute of the eighth game.

Tretiak conceded recreating the atmosphere of that first series is impossible.

"It's like space travel by (Soviet cosmonaut Yuri) Gagarin," who in 1961 became the first human in space and first to orbit the Earth. "You cannot repeat it."

That didn't stop the chuckling Russian ambassador from offering an intervention.

"If you insist I will ask personally President Putin to recreate the atmosphere of Cold War in August, but just for August," said Mamedov.

Countered Tretiak: "No political, only competition for sport. Who is better: Canada today or Russia? Why not?"

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Tretiak says he has Putin, Harper backing to recreate 1972 Cold War on ice