EL SEGUNDO AND LOS ANGELES, CA — For any hockey writer covering a young player making his National Hockey League debut, chances are astronomical that he or she is secretly hoping that the player in question will, at least, record an assist, if not score a goal, that his team will win, and that his family, especially his parents, were able to be there to witness it all, first-hand. After all, those factors generally make for a better story.
But for Los Angeles Kings rookie forward Alex Iafallo, he didn’t need to figure in the scoring on October 5, when he made his NHL debut against the Philadelphia Flyers at Staples Center in Los Angeles, a 2-0 win for the Kings.
Indeed, the 23-year-old, 6-0, 185-pound native of Eden, New York’s debut story might be less about what he did on the ice on Thursday night than about what he said about it all after the game, and after practice on October 6.
Throughout the interviews, Iafallo talked about what it was like to make his NHL debut. But he always shifted the focus to his teammates, and to what he had to do to improve, and stay in the NHL.
“The whole day was great,” he said. “It was one hell of an experience, especially playing at home. It was the home opener, and a big win, too. I had a great time. I couldn’t have pictured it any better than that.”
“It was just a dream come true,” he added. “A lot of guys say that, but it was an awesome feeling, and it was the home opener, too. Wow. It’s finally setting in, and I’m feeling good about it. It’s been really fun, learning from everybody. It’s been a great day. It was fun to play for such an amazing team, with such amazing players.”
“It was a great feeling, but I’ve just got to keep playing my game. Now that I’m part of the team, and I’m playing in the NHL, I’ve got to have that mindset to be prepared, every game, every practice.”
The night didn’t start without some jitters.
“I had some nervous jitters,” he noted. “It was our home opener, so I was skating out there, looking at the crowd at Staples Center was pretty special.”
Iafallo was also asked about his feelings during the National Anthem prior to the game, and he deflected the focus away from himself, for the most part.
“[Pia Toscano] was a great singer,” he observed. “It was an amazing feeling. It was pretty sad, what happened in Las Vegas, with [Kings employee] Christiana [Duarte, who was among those killed]. It was good to recognize her, and everybody [who was affected by] the Las Vegas shooting. But other than that, the National Anthem gave me chills. That was pretty cool.”
Iafallo didn’t forget the fans, either.
“It felt a lot different, a lot more serious [compared to the pre-season],” he said. “The crowd was great, the fans are awesome. It’s just been a great day, and I’m happy it happened here.”
Playing on a line with Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar, Iafallo also made it a point to acknowledge them.
“It’s awesome [to play on a line with them],” he emphasized. “I’m learning as I go. I watched those guys when I was younger, so it’s a pretty cool feeling. They were great tonight. I’m just so honored to be able to play with those guys.”
For the record, Iafallo smirked when asked if Brown and Kopitar were aware of his reference to their age, and neither player was available for a response.
“I just worked hard,” Iafallo noted. “That was my whole mindset throughout camp, and [he made the Kings roster out of training camp]. I’m really thankful for it, and like I said, I’m very honored to play with those guys. Everybody in this room is amazing. It’s the National Hockey League. But playing with those two is really special.”
After pumping up his line mates, Iafallo turned to his family.
“My Mom and Dad, [Barbara and Tom], flew in, last minute, from Buffalo,” he noted. “They just said that they were proud of me. I’m glad they were able to come on such short notice. My sister couldn’t make it, but she was watching. Everybody has been excited for me, and I’m thankful for their support. They’re all happy for me.”
“There were big hugs after the game,” he added. “Lots of that. They had a lot of fun [during the game]. It was pretty cool for them to [be able to] enjoy that.”
Iafallo’s sister, Julianna, is a senior on the Ohio State University Women’s Hockey team.
“My sister couldn’t make it,” Alex said. “They [played on October 6]. I talked to her for a little bit after [Thursday’s] game. She was pretty sad that she couldn’t make it, but she said that she was proud of me, [too], and to play hard. I’m going to try to watch her game.”
Iafallo also received congratulatory messages from friends.
“A good friend back home texted me,” he said. “He can’t believe I made [the Kings roster]. There’s a game at Buffalo in February. He said that he’s going to get tickets already.”
After all that, Iafallo finally focused more on what happened on the ice, and he certainly noticed that things were turned up a notch from the pre-season.
“First game [of the season], especially, everybody was flying at full speed out there,” he observed. “It was a lot of fun. I just have to keep on playing with pace, working hard, and doing the right things.”
As far as the coaching staff was concerned, that’s pretty much what Iafallo did.
“Iafallo continued to do the things we’ve been impressed with his ability to do,” said head coach John Stevens. “He was tenacious on the puck, he’s responsible, he made some pretty high-end skills plays, especially the one play to Anze Kopitar. He does a lot of really good things.”
On the play in question, Iafallo threw a cross-ice pass to Kopitar at the bottom of the right circle, only to have Flyers goaltender Michal Neuvirth take away what looked like a guaranteed goal with a spectacular glove save.
“I kind of sauced it over the [defenseman’s] stick,” said Iafallo. “I saw the defenseman go down, so I thought I could get it over there, and I knew Kopi was going to be in the right spot. But I think [the puck] bounced up right before it hit his stick.”
“If you look at the play [Iafallo] made, defensively, he got his stick on a puck, and kind of disrupted things,” Stevens noted. “He was able to keep his speed. He had the presence of mind to hunt down that puck and then, put it over the top of a [defender’s stick].”
“It was just a great, all-around play. If you make that play ten times, it’s probably got a 70 percent chance of going in, maybe higher.”
To be sure, it’s very, very early in his career, but it appears that Alex Iafallo just might have, at the very least, the same chance of becoming a solid NHL player, perhaps more than that.
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings rookie winger Alex Iafallo. Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net.
Frozen Royalty’s Alex Iafallo Coverage
- LA Kings Alex Iafallo: Not Your Typical NHL Debut Story
- Alex Iafallo Seems To Be A Shoo-In To Make LA Kings Opening Night Roster
Frozen Royalty by Gann Matsuda is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may copy, distribute and/or transmit any story or audio content published on this site under the terms of this license, but only if proper attribution is indicated. The full name of the author and a link back to the original article on this site are required. Photographs, graphic images, and other content not specified are subject to additional restrictions. Additional information is available at: Frozen Royalty – Licensing and Copyright Information.