WHA Hall of Fame

Gerry Cheevers - One Of The Best

It's not nice to be overshadowed.

George Harrison was overshadowed by Lennon and McCartney, Harpo Marx by Groucho, Lou Gehrig was certainly overshadowed by Babe Ruth. Avis by Hertz.

But these injustices pale by comparison, when considering the recent Team Canada-Russia hockey series. For vastly overshadowed in the charges, countercharges, delays, accusations, counteraccusations of the series was the most magnificent goaltending ever witnessed on both ends of the rink.

Gerry Cheevers and Vladislav Tretiak staged the show. Solitary figures, a distance away from the high sticks and sharp elbows that marred much of the classic. But in their own distinct style, they symbolically walked off with the roses when the curtain finally fell on the hockey drama.

The styles of Cheevers and Tretiak are as diffuse as their political ideology. Think about their respective style. Think about their politics. From the free world comes the free goaler, Gerry Cheevers. Gerry is a roamer, skating from corner to corner, sometimes handling the puck like a Ralph Backstrom, sometimes handling the stick like a Lou Fontinato. He's his own man and he guards his cage with the same reckless abandon.

Unlike Cheevers, Tretiak is chained to his net, much like the Communist rank and file is chained to their ideology. Tretiak is a machine, a robot programmed to keep pucks out of the Russian net. He is amazingly quick and uncommonly agile, a product of the rigorous Russian training program.

Take a look at Tretiak's mask. It's really a capsulized jail cell, steel bars running vertically and horizontally across his face. It's a mirror image of the Communist way of life.

But above and beyond the obvious differences of both common. They keep small, hard rubber discs known as hockey pucks out of their cage probably better than any other duo in the world.

Ask Al Smith.

The Whalers' all-star goalkeeper, brilliant in his own right, recently offered a goalie's eye view of the goaltending trade in general and Cheevers and Tretiak in particular.

“Cheesie (Gerry Cheevers and Bernie Parent) are the best around these parts,” Smith said. “Parent is the tactician, the scientist. Cheesie is the George C. Scott. He's got the great mind and the great character.”

“Tretiak is amazingly quick,” Smitty added. “In fact, he's so fast he is unbelievable. They showed films of Tretiak working out before a game and it actually looked like they had speeded up the film. I couldn't believe it.”

OK Smitty, who is the very best?

“Let's put it this way,” Smith said. “You give Cheevers Tretiak's body, and nobody in the world would beat him. You give Tretiak Cheevers' mind, and nobody in the world would beat him.”

The Abrahamsson brothers of Sweden have yet to test Cheevers, but they certainly know enough about Mr. Tretiak. Time and time again, the Russian netminder frustrated the Swedish National teams in world competition.

When I brought up Tretiak's name to defenseman Thommy, his eyes lit up like a Christmas tree.

“Very, very good,” Thommy said. “Very quick with stick and glove.”

Goaltender Christer Abrahamsson, a keen student of the art, also notes a big difference in the two styles.

“Cheevers skate much more,” Christer said in broken but perfectly understandable English. “He uses stick in different way than Tretiak. Cheevers keep puck and hits players in front of goal. Tretiak uses to stop and direct puck into corners. Both good, good.”

Whether you're from Sweden, Toronto, Hartford, Springfield, or Walla Walla, Cheevers and Tretiak stand out above the crowd. Different in style and appearance, their performance belied their responsibility. And although the bickerings and controversies received much of the ink, Tretiak and Cheevers received and stopped most of the offensive shots. But they are overshadowed. And it's not nice to be overshadowed.