Alexander Almetov

Another early Soviet hockey star that is long forgotten is Alexander Almetov.

One of the reasons he is long forgotten is very few North Americans knew much of him when he actually played. Some Europeans may remember better, but his contributions in Russia will always be remembered.

Almetov, like most Russians, was a well trained forward when it came to skating, puckhandling and passing, though he was never an elite scoring threat. Part of that was because Almetov was a superior defensive forward. In fact he was a mainstay on the Russian penalty killing units perhaps the best PK man of his generation.

Anatoli Tarasov wrote the following in his book Road to Olympus:

"Perhaps sports fans who have seen our national team in action have noticed that whenever we have one man short, Alexander Almetov is sure to appear on the ice. When it comes to individual play, a question of holding on to the puck and beating off a superior force, Almetov is in a class by himself! He is not a solist, he is a star in the good sense of the word."

Tarasov had identified Almetov as a top hockey prospect when Almetov was 14 years old and a student at Central Red Army hockey school. He was an effortless skater but more impressively he was incredibly efficient and intelligent on the ice, a true master of the game.

Almetov was a regular linemate of Konstantin Loktev and Venjamin Alexandrov. Those three formed the second great troika in Soviet hockey history as they followed the threesome of Babich, Shuvalov and Bobrov. All three are Merited Masters of Sport in Russia (the equivalent of a Hall of Fame). Almetov and Loktev meshed together especially well, with the brooding Alexandrov playing the role of trigger man.Together the three earned their country a neck-full of World and European championship gold medals.

Almetov was the center of the unit. When first paired with his two mates, Loktev and Alexandrov were said to have pleaded with their coach for a different center, as they were weary of his level of play. While Almetov's skill level may not have been on par with the other two, he complimented the line very well with his positioning and passing.

Almetov's strong point, according to coach Tarasov, was much like that of Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky wasn't even born when Almetov joined the Russian national team mind you, but the two shared an uncanny knack of always being at the right place at the right time. Tarasov actually compared him to a chess player, who plans out an attack before the play even begins. This is why Almetov almost always led an attack.

Despite his penalty killing forte and the fact that he occasionally played defense when there was injury to a blueliner in the middle of the game, many critics suggested Almetov was a poor defensive forward 5 on 5. He was slow to comeback and help out defensively, even lazy they said. Tarasov seemed unconcerned however.

"Is this a drawback? Relatively speaking - yes. But if we take into consideration the peculiarities of this master's game, the tactics of the whole line - no. That is the Almetov style of playing hockey, that is his manner and if he changed it, Soviet hockey would doubtlessly lose of one of its best forwards."

On the national team Almetov played second fiddle to the great Vyacheslav Starshinov, the team's #1 center. But Starshinov had the ultimate compliment for him:

"In my opinion, he played practically flawless hockey all the time."

Interestingly, Almetov ended his career prematurely at the age of 27. In Soviet sports in those days the age of 33 years represented the maximum age an athlete would reach, and it was strictly enforced by Tarasov in the world of hockey. When Konstantin Loktev turned 33 and retired, so did Almetov even though he was 6 years his junior. It was said that Almetov left the ice believing that without Loktev the game could never be the same for him.

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