How does a 23-year-old, undrafted, college graduate end up in the NHL on a line with two two-time Stanley Cup Champs/All-Stars/Olympians? Getting to know Alex Iafallo, the LA Kings' rookie centerman, will probably provide a pretty good answer.
On April 18, just a month before completing his senior season of NCAA hockey, Iafallo was signed by the Kings as an unrestricted free agent. He graduated from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where he received a Bachelor's Degree in Management.
Come October, Iafallo, who not only managed to earn a spot on the Kings' opening night roster, but found himself on the top line alongside iconic Kings wingers Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown.
It wasn't until that debut in the regular season home opener that he realized his NHL dream was a real possibility.
"I started and I was standing next to those guys on the blue line for the national anthem and I think that's when it really set in," recalls Iafallo. "It was pretty cool looking around at all the fans, and hearing the national anthem was pretty special."
Hailing from a small farming town south of Buffalo, New York, called Eden, where popular hobbies include ATVing and fishing, there wasn't a huge opportunity for hockey. This didn't stop Iafallo or his younger sister, Julianna, who is currently in her senior season as Captain of the Ohio State Women's Hockey Team.
Iafallo's dad, Tom, who owns a restaurant and runs hockey clinics, built his kids a roller rink in the backyard, on which they could develop their hockey skills. Tom was also an assistant coach on some of Alex's youth teams, and Alex's mom, Barbara, is a nurse. Alex credits both his parents for making such a huge positive impact on his life and hockey career.
"Growing up my parents did a lot for me. We played a lot of hockey - more travel hockey, instead of high school hockey - so we did a lot of traveling. We always went to Toronto and played, and usually the Boston area," shares Iafallo, who was a Buffalo Sabres fan as a kid. "Growing up they always pushed me, showing me the NHL, getting me to practice, always working with me in the backyard. They taught me to work hard and you can reach your goals, and I feel like that has helped me in every level of hockey, so I owe it to those guys."
After teaching both their kids how to work hard for what they wanted most in life, Tom and Barbara are pretty "pumped" to be enjoying their kids' successes, and have already been to Los Angeles to watch their son play in the NHL. Even Alex has managed to take in a few of his sister's games with his busy schedule.
"I watch her, depending on what day we're playing; we're two or three hours behind, depending on where she's playing, but I've seen two or three games this year," says the proud big brother.
If there's some downtime and his sister isn't playing a game, you can likely find Iafallo at the beach or playing the video game 'Call of Duty,' and the chances of finding him with roommate and teammate Adrian Kempe, are high. Iafallo also admits to being part of the group of guys that engage in 'Super Mario Kart' on the Kings' charters.
Music preferences change with the seasons for Iafallo, as Country Music is genre of choice during the summers, while EDM and Kygo are the favorite during the season. His favorite TV show is 'The Office' - which is basically a pre-bedtime ritual - and he is extra excited that the holidays are fast approaching as some of his favorite movies include 'National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation,' and 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas.'
While he wasn't familiar with the city or anyone on LA's current roster prior to this summer, he is quickly getting acclimated all the way around.
"Coming from a really small town it's different, but it's easy to adjust to. Traffic's obviously different for me, but everybody has to go through it, so you just have to think about that. You can't beat the beach and the food's been great. I just love it here," says Iafallo, who is beginning to get used to eating sushi rolls.
"I've learned from about everybody here," Iafallo asserts of his new teammates. "Everybody adds something different to the game, especially playing with Kopi and Brownie, you'll definitely learn a lot. They make you better as a player every game and every practice. I've learned to be smart and to prepare, on and off the ice. Preparation is huge here."
Although he wasn't sure where he'd be living after graduation, Southern California provided some nice scenery for development work over the summer, rookie camp, then training camp.
"Honestly, the NHL was my goal and I just wanted to stay positive and work hard every day, and whatever happens, happens. I was just going to stick with it and keep doing my job and obviously it worked out well."
Now, Iafallo gets a kick out of seeing celebs like Will Ferrell and Eric Stonestreet on the big screen at STAPLES Center, who are, in a way, there to see him.
"It's weird," he mutters with a chuckle.
As much fun as he is having at the moment, the work ethic his parents instilled in him should ensure he stays at this level of hockey for a while.
"Hockey has taught me to work hard. Nothing is given to you. You have to work hard and stay positive, too. You can't get too down on yourself, and have fun, that's pretty much the main aspect of living life at the end of the day - you want to have fun and do the best you can."
Coincidentally enough, a phrase Iafallo strives to live his life by is simply "go with the flow."
If this year has been any indication, he's doing that just fine.