It's the ultimate all-American story.
A Soviet hockey coach comes to the United States immediately after the end of the Cold War with little more than a guest visa and $150. After working in demolition, he eventually finds a coaching job on Long Island, ultimately turning the area into a fertile ground for hockey talent. With one of his pupils, Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi, now a Stanley Cup champion for the second time, the classic American tale continues for Aleksey Nikiforov.
"It makes me feel great. It proved to me that I know something," said Nikiforov, who has spent the past few years coaching the Suffolk P.A.L. Junior B team, which won a national championship in 2009. "When Darius Kasparaitis was young and was playing hockey, I told his mother and father that, 'One day, you'll see your son [playing] on big, big ice.' And that happened. It was a feeling."
For the Long Island hockey guru who also groomed NHL players Chris Higgins, Mike Komisarek, and Matt Gilroy, it all started with Kasparaitis. One of Nikiforov's first players in Lithuania, the defenseman would win a Soviet league championship before playing more than 800 NHL games and earning Olympic and world championship gold in 1992.
For a dominant Soviet national team with a roster scouted mostly from Moscow and St. Petersburg, Nikiforov was hailed for finding talent off the radar. The Soviet government even rewarded the coach with a three-bedroom apartment for helping them find world-class players in a region not known as a hockey hotbed.