It is often said that if you were some how able to rank the top players in the history of hockey, a number of the members of the Soviet Red Army would be included near the top. Some would say Alexander Maltsev would top that list.
While it is virtually impossible to compare hockey players from different eras, it is also almost as hard to compare international legends to National Hockey Leaguers. However there is little doubt that Maltsev ranks among the most talented hockey players ever.
Having never had the chance to play in the NHL, he is mostly long forgotten in North America nowadays. Except maybe in Washington, where his name piques some interests now and again. That is largely because Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin identifies Maltsev as his idol growing up.
Maltsev was a bit of a rarity in Soviet hockey. While he was a leading player on the National Team, he played with Dynamo Moscow in the Soviet League as opposed to the Red Army team. The Red Army always served as the Russian's national team and most national team members also would skate with the Big Red Machine during the Soviet League schedule. Maltsev was one of the few players who was able to play elsewhere during the season.
In Soviet League play Alexander played in 530 games from 1967 to 1984. In that time he scored 329 goals while leading Dynamo Moscow to 6 silver medals and 7 bronze medals. The Red Army, stacked with all the best players, almost annually won the gold medal. Dynamo Moscow is generally considered to be Russia's second most successful team.
Alexander became a legend on the International side of the game. He participated in three Olympic games, helping the Soviet Union win gold in 1972 and 1976, as well as a silver medal in 1980. Maltsev also played in 12 World Championships, winning gold in 9 of those tournaments. Three times he was named the World Championship's best forward and was a tournament all star 5 times.
Maltsev is of course best known to North Americans for his starring role in the 1972 Summit Series where he teamed with CCCP's most dangerous individual player, Valeri Kharlamov. He was a set up man for Kharlamov who was the trigger man. His five assists tied him for second on the Series' assist list. When Kharlamov scored his two goals in game one to shock the Canadians and take a demanding lead, Maltsev, was the guy who set him up.
Alexander Maltsev also starred in the 1976 Canada Cup. He scored 3 goals and 7 assists in 5 games and was the only Russian named to the tournament All Star team.
Like Ovechkin, Maltsev was a creative player who was not afraid to try unique plays in practice or in games. In a game against Dynamo Berlin he was once reported to have scored a goal by flipping the puck over net while he darted out in front to knock the puck passed the goalie baseball style. Valeri Kharlamov, Pavel Bure and Pavel Datsyuk, amongst other Russian stars, have tried to emulate the famous goal, but with no success.
Maltsev was "born to be a hockey player," and it showed. He loved to be on the ice, even if it was just practice. He was said to be "out of sorts" when away from the rink, anxious to get back to it. He seemed to crave the attention he could generate with his game. Retirement from the game was said to be extremely tough for him.