Wednesday

Victor Netchaev

"Victor who?" you are probably ask yourself right about now. But he is the answer to the popular trivia question "who was the first Soviet trained player to play in the National Hockey League?" Nice job if you thought it was Sergei Priakhin, who was the first Soviet trained player who was given permission to play in the NHL, but Mr. Netchaev actually him beat by 7 years.

Netchaev, a center, only played in 3 NHL games during his career, so it is easy to see how he is barely a footnote in history. These three games went to the history books though, because Victor was the first Soviet trained player to appear in the NHL, as well as the first to score a goal.

European hockey history expert Patrick Houda tells us more.

"Victor made his North American debut as a 27-year old in 1982 for New Haven in the AHL. He was off to a fast start in New Haven and scored 1 goal and 5 points in his first 4 games there. It was his 1 goal and 2 assist performance in a game vs. Adirondack that gave him the call up to Los Angeles Kings.

The historic date for his NHL debut was October 16, 1982 when he appeared in a Los Angeles Kings uniform. The game was vs. the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.

"Netchaev was put on a line together with Darryl Evans and Steve Bozek. Kings lost the game 1-4 and Victor was held pointless in the game, but his performance was solid."

"The next night at Madison Square Garden, Victor beat Rangers goalie Steve Weeks 17:15 into the 1st period to make it 3-0 Los Angeles. His goal came on an assist by Darryl Evans and was the first ever goal in the NHL by a Russian trained player. Los Angeles went on to win 4-2 and Victor was one of the best players on the ice, having 5 shots on goal and being +1," says Houda.

"He only played sparingly in his third and last NHL game and was then sent down back to New Haven for conditioning purposes, as GM George Maguire put it."

Victor's son Greg offers more input on his father's career:

"My father was actually offered a contract by the Kings for 2 years plus one option. But he did not want to stay with the Kings for 2 years for fear of being moved down to the minor league. He actually just wanted a shorter term of time which would eliminate the probability of going down to the minor because of age (27). The third "game" at Forum, in Los Angeles against the New Jersey Devils, was the beginning of "North American" negotiations for a contract. During these negotiations he was stripped of his gear, forbidden to see, play, or practice with his team, and was almost metaphorically "jailed" for almost a month. "

"Being from the USSR, he was totally shocked by the lack of care or respect or even understanding of the needs of the player himself in the pro sports here. It seemed to him that money was first and this whole dilemma had nothing to do with the sport anymore. He also said that "It was very hard to work with the manager (George Maguire) who had busy hands, one hand with whiskey and one with a cigarette."

Although Netchaev had NHL offers from other teams (New York Rangers, Hartford Whalers), he opted to briefly play in West Germany with Dusseldorf.

But how did Netchaev escape the Soviet Union and come to play in the NHL? Houda gives us a look into Netchaev's background.

"He was born in Kuibyshevka-Vostochnaya in Siberia, Russia on January 28, 1955. He made his debut in the Russian elite league as a 17-year old for Spartak and had 16 pts (8 goals + 8 assists) in 20 games.
"The next season (1974-75) he played in the 2nd division for his home team Siberia where he had a fine season with 20 goals (32 pts) in 56 games. After that he got picked by SKA Leningrad in the Russian elite league where he played  between 1975-80. During the 1980-81 season he split his time in two 2nd division clubs, Binokor and Izhstal where he scored 40 points (26 goals and 14 assists) in 40 games.

"That was Victor's last season in Russia. He met an American woman who he married and moved to USA, which made him miss the entire 1981-82 season."

The American woman with whom he fell in love with was Cheryl Haigler, a Yale graduate student studying abroad in Leningrad. They actually met in Switzerland in 1977, when Netchaev was playing in the Spengler Cup. They married in 1980 but she was forced to return to the United States because her visa expired shortly after the wedding. She took a job in Boston with an accounting firm, and began the two year legal process of freeing Netchaev to come to America.

The Kings got word of his arrival in America, and even though he was far from a top Soviet player they were immediately interested. He got drafted in 1982 by Los Angeles in the 7th round, 132nd overall.

What has Netchaev been up to since hanging up the blades. Son Greg fills us in on that:

" Since he left the ice, he was doing numerous things involving entertainment, managing, local television programs (russian), radioing (russian). Then, starting from 1991, he began working as a manager and director of development of players with his partner Serge Levin in ARTV Sports Management. From '92-94 he was also the assistant coach and international scout of the Milwaukee Admirals. He still works in ARTV Sports Management as his main business."

Victor scored 137 goals 234 points in 328 Russian league games and 4 goals and 11 points in 28 AHL games.

His NHL stats were nothing too impressive with 1 goal in 3 games, with a +1 rating and 7 shots on goal. But it was that first game and first goal that today is the trivia question. Who was the first Soviet trained player to score a goal in the NHL ? Not Fetisov, not Makarov, not Mogilny, not Bure, but a guy from Siberia named Victor Netchaev.

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