From Lithua­nia, with a style of his own

He prefers ‘side-to-side’ puck han­dling in­stead of the ‘end-to-end’ play

Ottawa Citizen - - BELL CAPITAL CUP 2012 - PETER MORROW

Alek­sey Nik­i­forov never played in the National Hockey League, and most Cana­dian hockey fans have prob­a­bly never heard of him. Yet his in­flu­ence can be found all across the NHL.

And this week, it can also been seen in the play of the 12-year-olds on Suf­folk P.A.L., a AAA pee­wee boys team from Long Is­land, N.Y. com­pet­ing in the Bell Cap­i­tal Cup tour­na­ment tak­ing place at are­nas across the city un­til Sun­day.

Suf­folk P.A.L. is coached by Nik­i­forov, for 37 years a top level player and coach who starred for Dy­namo Riga in the Rus­sian Elite League be­fore mov­ing to the U.S. from Lithua­nia 20 years ago — and bring­ing with him an “east-west” style of play he has taught to dozens of Nh­lers.

“My best days of play­ing are now over, I think,” the 54-year-old said with a laugh Wed­nes­day af­ter his team’s 5-1 loss in their first tour­na­ment game against the Bos­ton Jr. Ter­ri­ers.

Nik­i­forov, whose son Vic­tor plays for Suf­folk P.A.L., prefers a style that in­volves more puck pos­ses­sion and side-to-side (or east-west) move­ment as op­posed to the more tra­di­tional “north-south” style — end-toend, dump-and-chase style — em­ployed in North Amer­ica.

“These Amer­i­can play­ers, es­pe­cially in Long Is­land, tend to play the game like foot­ball,” Nik­i­forov said. “If you watch the Fin­nish teams in this tour­na­ment, they play north­south but also east-west. There is more ge­og­ra­phy on the ice.”

Back on Long Is­land, Nik­i­forov coaches the Ju­nior A Suf­folk P.A.L. team in ad­di­tion to his son’s pee­wee club.

And in the off-sea­son, he runs his own hockey camps for elite ju­nior play­ers.

Nik­i­forov said he en­joys each of his two roles as coach, but he also rel­ishes the chance to de­velop each player in­di­vid­u­ally to the best of his abil­ity.

He has tu­tored a long list of pro hockey play­ers — Chris Higgins of the Vancouver Canucks, Mike Komis­arek of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Stan­ley Cup win­ner Rob Scud­eri of the Los An­ge­les Kings are some cur­rent Nh­lers — as well as a pair of former Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors, Alexei Yashin and Alexei Ko­valev. De­spite their suc­cess as world-class play­ers, Nik­i­forov refers to them as his “stu­dents.”

He has close per­sonal re­la­tion­ships with some of these stu­dents, es­pe­cially ex-nhler player Dar­ius Kas­paraitis and Dainius Zubrus of the New Jersey Devils.

These two, like Nik­i­forov, are rare NHL prod­ucts of the small Baltic coun­try, Lithua­nia.

“I’ve taught all these play­ers the east-west as­pect of (the) game,” Nik­i­forov said.

“You should be able to see it in the way they play.”

MATTHEW USH­ER­WOOD, THE OT­TAWA CIT­I­ZEN

Alek­sey Nik­i­forov, coach of the Suf­folk P.A.L. team from New York, gives his young play­ers a stern lec­ture in be­tween pe­ri­ods at the Bell Canada Cup tour­na­ment at Ray Friel arena on Wed­nes­day.

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