From Lithuania, with a style of his own
He prefers ‘side-to-side’ puck handling instead of the ‘end-to-end’ play
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.”
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.