SOCHI, Russia — Vladislav Tretiak initially deflected a question as if he was making a kick save to keep a puck out of his net.
Moments later, perhaps after pondering his response, the Hall of Fame goaltender and Russian legend acknowledged a lot was learned when the U.S. hockey team beat the Soviets in the “Miracle on Ice” game at the Lake Placid Olympics in 1980.
“It was a good lesson that the Americans taught us,” Tretiak told reporters packed into a 530-seat hall Tuesday. “You have to respect your competitors and only after the game can you tell what you think about them.
“We did not have respect for the competitors at that time, but we don't have that during this Olympics,” added Tretiak, who helped light the cauldron to open the Sochi Games.
The three-time gold medalist was benched after giving up two goals in the first period in what is widely regarded as the greatest upset in Olympic history.
How long did it take him to get over the 4-3 loss?
“Let me tell you this — in '84 we managed to rectify our mistakes,” Tretiak bristled. “We got our gold. It took us four years to grab the gold, but we have to give it to the U.S. team.
“In 1980, it was a miracle. And in fact, it made it possible for the ice hockey to develop so fast in the United States.”
USA Hockey executive Jim Johannson agreed, saying: “It captured the nation.”
Johannson said USA Hockey employed about six or seven people 34 years ago and now the grass-roots organization pays nearly 100 people to help develop boys who potentially will represent the country as men at the Olympics.
One of those players is 29-year-old Ryan Suter, who is from Madison, Wis.
He left home for two seasons to play for the USA Hockey national team development program in Ann Arbor, Mich., played one year at Wisconsin and has become one of the NHL's best on the blue line for the Minnesota Wild.
Suter's father, Bob, helped the Americans upset the Soviet Union and beat Finland to win their second and last Olympic gold medal in 1980.
“My dad didn't talk about it that much growing up,” he said. “I heard more through my friends and teachers telling me where they were when that happened.”
No one on the U.S. team was born on Feb. 22, 1980, when the famous game was played.
The Americans will likely be asked about that game a lot in the coming days because they will face Russians, who are like rock stars, at the Sochi Games, on Saturday.
Tretiak, though, seems to be trying to play down the highly anticipated matchup as the president of the Ice Hockey Federation of Russia.
“It doesn't matter who plays against us,” Tretiak said. “We are going to approach it as a final.”