Tretiak grew up in a Soviet family, with his parents being from Sumy, [Soviet Union]. His father served 37 years as a military pilot, and his mother was a physical education teacher. Although he initially followed his brother as a swimmer, as a child Tretiak was known to excel at many sports, and is remembered for his ambition to master all of them. However, like many children of his generation, he loved hockey, and at age 11 entered the Children and Youth Sports School of the Central Sports Club of the Army (known by its abbreviation CSKA). His first trainer was Vitaly Erfilov. He began playing goaltender when he saw that no one else had the desire or courage to play the position.
Despite Tretiak not playing his first hockey game until the age of eleven (1963), he was well known in the USSR by 1971 (aged 19), when he was named to the Soviet Ice Hockey League's First All-Star Team, while playing for the powerhouse Red Army team, CSKA Moscow. He also played well in the 1972 Winter Olympics, in which the Soviets took the gold medal.
Tretiak became internationally famous after his outstanding performance in the Summit Series in 1972, when he helped surprise the world, and more importantly, the Canadian team, en route to a narrow loss to the Canadians. A famous story told of how Canadian scouts seriously underestimated his ability prior to the Series; they witnessed him let in eight goals on a particular night, not knowing that he had been married the previous evening (and most of the team had been in attendance). Out of the entire Soviet roster, Canadian players and fans held Tretiak in the highest regard and respect and Tretiak was one of the most famous players of the Series along with Phil Esposito, Paul Henderson, and Valeri Kharlamov. As a result of Tretiak's stellar performance, many NHL teams wanted to draft him – Montreal ultimately did, in 1983 – and Tretiak was willing, but the move was blocked by the Soviet government.
During the 1976 Super Series, Tretiak put on a dominant performance against the Montreal Canadiens, holding them to a 3–3 tie despite his team being outshot 38–13.
Tretiak went on to star for the Soviet Union, helping them win gold medals in the 1976 Winter Olympics, and again winning gold in the 1984 Winter Olympics and the 1981 Canada Cup. Tretiak also back-stopped the Soviets to ten IIHF World Championships victories and nine in the IIHF European Championships.
In the 1980 Winter Olympics, the Miracle on Ice denied Tretiak a chance at yet another gold. Tretiak was pulled by Viktor Tikhonov at the end of the first period in favor of Vladimir Myshkin, after giving up a late goal with only one second left in the period, by Team USA's Mark Johnson. The Soviet team had left the ice for the dressing room, thinking the period was over, so Tikhonov sent out Myshkin, along with 3 Soviet players, to officially end the period. Myshkin remained in goal for the rest of the game because of the uncharacteristic weak performance of Tretiak in the first period. Tretiak, along with many other Soviet players, hated the move by Tikhonov. Tretiak himself stated that the move cost him a gold medal, insinuating that he would not have let in the goals that Myshkin allowed; had he won that game, he would only have needed to secure a draw against Sweden two nights later for the Soviets to win gold. As it was, the team settled for silver, as they had the 2nd-highest number of points in the tournament.
Though he was only 32 in 1984 and still capable of playing top-level hockey for many more years, Tretiak retired. It is said that he wanted to spend more time with his family and asked Tikhonov for a training regime, in which he could live at home and come to the training camp before games. Given that the rest of the team spent most of their time away from home in the training camp, Tikhonov refused. This move by Tikhonov contributed to Tretiak's decision to retire.
Tretiak was one of the guests who spoke at the ceremony during which the Montreal Canadiens retired the jersey number of Ken Dryden on 29 January 2007. Dryden had been one of Team Canada's goaltenders during the 1972 Summit Series, opposite Tretiak.
Tretiak retired in 1984, fittingly following a 2–0 victory over Czechoslovakia. In 1990, Mike Keenan hired Tretiak as a goaltender coach for the Chicago Blackhawks, which has allowed him to coach some of the top goalies of the past 20 years, such as Ed Belfour, Dominik Hašek, and Jocelyn Thibault. Keenan was so impressed with Tretiak's abilities in practice that he suggested the 38-year-old might still be able to play in the NHL. Tretiak personally said that coaching was the next best thing to playing in the NHL. Since leaving the Blackhawks, Belfour has worn uniform number 20 as a tribute to Tretiak. Numerous other goalies, including Evgeni Nabokov, wear number 20 as a tribute to Tretiak.
He was awarded Order of the Red Banner of Labour (1984). In 1987 Tretiak wrote an autobiography, Tretiak, The Legend. He was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1989, the first Soviet player to be so honored and to be inducted as a player without having played a game in the NHL. In 2000, he was voted Best Russian Hockey Player of the 20th century. He was a vital cog for some of the most dominant hockey teams in history and is now considered one of hockey's greatest ambassadors.
Tretiak was elected to the State Duma as a member of the United Russia party in December 2003, representing the region of Saratov. He is chairman of the State Duma Committee on Physical Culture, Sport, and Youth. He continues to teach hockey skills in North America and Russia.
On 25 April 2006 (his 54th birthday), Tretiak was elected head of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation, capping his rise to the pinnacle of the Russian hockey elite. He obtained 93 out of the possible 96 votes, with the remaining three voters abstaining. A few days later, on 28 April, the Governor General of Canada awarded Tretiak the Meritorious Service Medal in a ceremony at Rideau Hall. Tretiak earned the award for, among other things, his founding of the Friends of Canada organization to foster good relations between Canada and Russia. He was the first Russian to be conferred this honor.
He also runs a Goalie School at the Canlan Ice Sports in Toronto, Ontario. Called the Vladislav Tretiak Elite School of Goaltending, it is considered one of the most physically punishing goaltending schools in the world, and a student can be refused admittance if he or she is not in top physical condition. He also ran a Goalie School in Montreal during the 90's where he trained many famous NHL goaltenders such as Jose Theodore and Martin Brodeur. Tretiak also ran a goalie hockey camp in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota in the early 2000s.
On 28 March 2007, Tretiak went to Ottawa to discuss with Canadian officials about the possibilities of holding another Summit Series during the summer of 2007, which would be 35 years after the initial event. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov had also discussed with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper about the possibilities of holding another event. In the end, a series was held in September 2007 between the national junior teams of Canada and Russia.
On 21 December 2012, he voted in favor of “Dima Yakovlev Law” in Russian State Duma. This legislation bars the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens. The legislation was the response on the Magnitsky bill.
Tretiak was the final torchbearer in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and lit the Olympic Flame during the opening ceremony along with Irina Rodnina.
Tretiak married his wife Tatiana (born 1950) on August 23, 1972, six weeks after they met. Their first son, Dmitri, was born the following year and their daughter, Irina, was born 3 years later. Tatiana is qualified as a Russian literature teacher, although she no longer works. Tretiak is a devout Russian Orthodox Christian.
The Super Series were exhibition games between an NHL team and Soviet teams (usually a club from the Soviet Championship League). Tretiak competed in three such series.First All-Star in the Soviet League consecutively each year from 1971 until 1984. In those fourteen years, Tretiak won thirteen league titles with the Red Army team, and was named MVP of the league five times
In 1978, Tretiak was awarded the Order of Lenin
First player born and trained outside North America to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame; along with longtime teammate Valeri Kharlamov, one of only two Russian players in the Hockey Hall of Fame in the players' category who played exclusively in Russia. In addition, Tretiak and Kharlamov are the only two in the players' category who played their entire careers behind the Iron Curtain. Tretiak is also the only such person to be so honored while living.
When Sports Illustrated named its greatest hockey team ever in 2000, it chose Tretiak as the goalie in a lineup that also included Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe, and Bobby Orr.
Order For Merit to the Fatherland 3rd (2012) and 4th (2002) class (Russian Federation)
Order of Honour (Russian Federation)
Order of Lenin (USSR)
Order of the Red Banner of Labour (USSR)
Order of Friendship of Peoples (USSR)
Order of the Badge of Honour (USSR)
Medal "For Labour Valour" (USSR)
Jubilee Medal "60 Years of the Armed Forces of the USSR" (USSR)
In the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, he was given the honor of being the lighter of the Olympic Cauldron along with Irina Rodnina.
Meritorious Service Medal (Canada)
He is supporting bandy's bid to get into the Winter Olympics.