The suggestion that everyone knows everyone in the world of hockey might be an exaggeration. Change that to everyone in the hockey world knows someone to put them in touch with everyone and you’re speaking the truth.
This was particularly the case in 1988, when John and Lyn Erickson from Fargo purchased the International Hockey School in Detroit Lakes. A couple of years later, John used his friendship with Fargo’s Scott Bye, a financial adviser for NHLers, to meet Blackhawks goalie Ed Belfour, who had been working with Vladislav Tretiak, a part-time goalie coach in Chicago, and Belfour told Erickson that he might be able to hire the Russian legend as the star attraction for his goalie camp in Detroit Lakes.
And in June 1991, Tretiak and his wife, Tatiana, were staying at the Fairyland Cottages (modeled after those seen in the film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”) on the northern shore of Detroit Lake, and getting ready for his first day at the Minnesota camp.
Bill Manuel, a former goalie at Wisconsin-Stout and Lyn Erickson’s brother, recalls the first meeting when Tretiak relayed his message through Anna Goruven, his business agent and interpreter, and then agreed to take questions from campers.
“We had five or six goalie instructors and had been saying, ‘OK, who is going to be the first to ask?’ ” Manuel said. “Meaning, who among us was going to be the first to ask Tretiak about getting pulled as the Soviet goalie in the loss to the U.S. at Lake Placid in 1980?
“And then this small kid, had to be one of our 9-year-olds, raised a hand and asked the first question, which was: ‘What was it like getting pulled by your coach in the game against the U.S. in the 1980 Olympics?’
“The rest of us are going, ‘The kid wasn’t even alive then.’ ”
Goruven relayed the question and Tretiak gave his stock answer: He had given up a bad goal (tying the score at 2-2), and the coach made the decision, and Tretiak had apologized to his home country, and other Soviet championships had followed.
A few years later, Erickson discovered another twist in coach Viktor Tikhonov’s decision to pull Tretiak after Mark Johnson’s long-range goal with one second left in the first period.
“I was taking teams to Russia in the 1990s and Boris Mikhailov was coaching with the national team,” Erickson said. “I met him at an arena in St. Petersburg in 1995 and said, ‘You should come over to be an instructor at our shooting camp.’ I gave him the figure, a thousand something, and his eyes got big and he said, ‘A week?’
“He was a gregarious guy and excited to come to Minnesota. When I got back, I was talking to Anna [Goruven] and told her, ‘Boris is coming to the camp to be our shooting coach.’
“And she said, ‘Mikhailov? I wish you hadn’t done that.’ ”
Erickson paused and said: “I found out there’s a back story on Tretiak being pulled. There were three captains on that first line, but Mikhailov was ‘the man.’ And he went to the coaches after the 2-2 goal and said, ‘Vladislav isn’t on his game tonight. You should replace him.’ ”
According to this story line, Tretiak and Mikhailov spoke only when it was an absolute necessity for years after that. In Detroit Lakes, Erickson said the two Russian hockey stars were “professional, not social.”
Manuel and other instructors were on a large boat on the night the camps had ended for another summer. “Vladislav was a great person and he didn’t drink that much,” Manuel said. “That night, he brought two big jugs of vodka, and a bunch of paper cups, and started doing toasts:
“To hockey … drink a cup. To Minnesota … drink a cup. To Russia … drink a cup. By the time it was over, we were stumbling off the boat and he was looking at us like, ‘What’s wrong with these guys?’
“That was also the night he looked at all of us with 100 percent seriousness and said: ‘If they do not take me out against the U.S., Russia does not lose that game.’ ”
There was a Twitter note on April 25 that it was Tretiak’s 68th birthday and there were a couple of responses from Minnesotans who had attended his goalie camp. Tretiak coaching goalies in Detroit Lakes? Really?
Yes, and the Star Tribune was on top of it, with a long piece by Steve Aschburner that appeared on July 18, 1993.
John and Lyn Erickson now live in Buffalo, Minn. John was a highly successful homebuilder in Fargo, allowing the Ericksons to own the hockey camp from 1988 to 2006, and to fulfill John’s dream since the fifth grade:
To see and climb Mount Everest.
“I’ve been four times and made it to Camp 2, at 21,000 feet,” he said. “Lyn was with me twice and was in on the long climb to 17,600 feet at base camp. You have to train for months ahead of time, and condition yourself to the altitude when you get there. The first time I went, I came back a month later and I’d lost 50 pounds.”
The hockey adventures in Russia included taking two senior teams to the closed city of Saratov for the Kharlamov tournament.
“It was near the space launches,” Erickson said. “We were the first Westerners there … ever, since it had been declared a closed city.”
Knowing Tretiak so well ranks high on any hockey man’s list.
“Vladislav is Russia’s Muhammad Ali,” Erickson said. “He is the country’s most famous athlete of all time.”
And then Lyn remembered this:
“You know what Vladislav really loved? The demolition derby at the fairgrounds in Detroit Lakes on the Fourth of July. Smashing up those cars amazed him. He wouldn’t miss it.”