Earlier in August, the 18-years-old Irbis defenseman Vsevolod Almetkin suffered from a severe car crash while sitting on a taxi. Despite five fractures and a concussion, the player overcame adversity and returned to the team. Three months later, on November 9, he played his first game in the new JHL season. Almetkin scored a goal and an assist, and played an important role in the Irbis’ 3:2 victory over Ladia. Since returning to the ice, the defenseman played in 25 JHL games, scoring 7 (2+5) points with plus-8 differential.
It isn’t the first JHL season for Almetkin. Under his belt he has 105 games for the Ak Bars youth team with 30 (10+20) points and a plus-24 rating. Almetkin played his last games before the accident in April in the semi-finals of the 2021 Kharlamov Cup. In this interview, Almetkin talked about the crash, the support from the club, his recovery and the missing calls to the Russian junior national team.
“I came to Tatneft Arena to unpack the uniforms, we had just had a game against Neftyanik,” the defenseman recalls. “I unpacked my things and called a cab back to the base. I sat down and everything after that was a bit of a blur – I don’t remember anything. I only remember that we departed. Then, I woke up after the crash, in the ambulance.”
Almetkin didn’t see anything from the crash. “The doctors said I blacked out for a while, so I don’t really remember anything,” he explains. “The next day I was sent a video. From there I learned that there I was involved in a car crash. I can’t say that watching it was very scary, but it was a very unpleasant situation, that’s for sure.”
Recovering, just as one could expect, was hard. “At first, there were negative predictions. Someone said that I would have to take six months to heal,” Atmetkin explains. “Some people even said that I would have to quit hockey. But I had a positive outlook on everything. My first thoughts were: ‘I can do it anyway, I will overcome it.’ The main blow came to my forehead. I think I had five fractures, plus a concussion. Thank God, a mild one.” Naturally, he recalled car crash occurred to hockey players from the past, and it helped him. “Valeri Kharlamov, first of all,” he explains. “Vyacheslav Kozlov was almost put together piece by piece after his crash. However, despite the accidents, their careers were successful. That helped me. I understood that many of them had it worse.”
Ak Bars didn’t deny its help to its young defenseman in the making. “I had a lot of help. The club management, Dmitry Kvartalnov and the whole coaching staff of Ak Bars visited me; it was a pleasure,” he confirms. “Irbis was on the road at the time, the guys called me. Then, when they came back, they came too.”
“They brought food,” Atmetkin said when asked what his teammates brought to him. “And books. I read a book on psychology, which I’m into. ‘The subconscious mind can do anything’ by John Kehoe. I loved it. At first, I wasn't allowed to read at all. No phone, no books, everything was off-limits. That’s why I was eager to do it.”
When he was discharged from hospital, Atmekin wasn’t scared about skating again. “I really wanted to do it again,” he explains. “I didn’t skate for two months. At first, I trained only off ice, with the recovery coach. Only then I was allowed to finally return to the ice, and it was a blessing. Three months had passed since the accident.”
And then, he finally returned, and was a force for Irbis right away. “A huge thank you to our coaches and partners, with whom I was recovering. They did not let me forget about my skills, and even discovered something new for me. Both the coaching staff and the players encouraged me all the time. Feeling that trust, I managed to do it again.”
However, despite being successful at his club’s level, Atmetkin so far has not received a call from the junior national team. “I don't have any luck in that respect,” he says. “Last season there were rumors that I might be invited, but I got injured, I tore my knee ligament. And then, the crash. Apparently, in the future there will be something positive according to the ‘pendulum’ principle.”
Almetkin was born in Nizhnekamsk, where he started playing hockey. His brother Daniil is also a player, currently a free agent, but with experience of playing in Russia, Slovakia, and Uzbekistan. “I always went to the rink with him,” he says. “The funny thing was that my brother was a hard worker. If he wasn’t good at something, he worked even harder. And me, if I fell or got tired, I would just take off my skates and sit down unhappy. I had no patience, but that came with age.”
Irbis is currently the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, and it looks like they can repeat last year’s success, when the club reached the Conference finals, losing 3:1 to Loko. “The coaching staff remains the same, we have a good team, and we worh hard. This means that we can achieve the highest goals. We can perform better than we did last season,” Almetkin says.
Naturally, he also has personal goals. “The best for me will be to feel the game, to get it back, to speed up things. And improve my overall game. I don’t care much about the points or a possible call-up to Bars or even Ak Bars. I need to find my game, and then I’ll have no problems in the future.