"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. Nechaev has him beat by 7 years.
Nechaev, 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 Russian 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.
A Russian King
"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.
"Nechaev 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."
First NHL Goal
"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."
Unknown to him that night, his hockey career would essentially be over right then and there.
" Victor however wasn't very thrilled about being sent down to the minors again and after a short while refused to report for any more games with New Haven. LA decided to not offer him a contract and promptly released him. That was it for Victor, who retired shortly thereafter."
Nechaev did briefly play in West Germany with Dusseldorf.
Coming To America
But how did Nechaev escape Communist Russia and come to play in the NHL? Houda gives us a look into Nechaev'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 & 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."
For The Love Of A Woman
The American woman with whom he fell in love with was Cheryl Haigler, a Yale graduate student studying abroad in Leningrad. They married very quickly 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 Nechaev 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.
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 Russian trained player to score a goal in the NHL ? Not Fetisov, not Makarov, not Mogilny, not Bure, but a guy from Siberia named Victor Nechaev.