Latest Islanders Illustrated Article

Here is my latest article that will be published in next months issue of Islanders Illustrated. Enjoy!

 

Home Ice Advantage

Far from the ice ponds in Canada, and a few hundred miles from the talent-infested hockey rinks in Massachusetts, lies an island that screams of hip checks and hat tricks. It’s known as Long Island.

This island, though not usually thought of as a hockey “hotbed,” is in fact full of talented and devoted young athletes, who not only take shots on goal, but take shots at their goal––of reaching the NHL.

Full of stick-handlers who can send a puck through traffic as though there’s an HOV lane on the ice, Long Island continues to produce gifted hockey players with the drive to succeed.

More than two decades removed from the illustrious Islanders dynasty of the 1980’s, there is a resurgence of hockey passion taking over Long Island, and it’s showing in the NHL talent pool. Through top-of-the-line coaches, highly motivated kids, and plenty of available rink time, Long Island is quickly regaining its enthusiasm and commitment to hockey.

And with the emergence of the Islanders Amateur Hockey Development Program, thousands of kids throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties are making a name for themselves at a very young age, in hopes of one day becoming professional hockey players.

A few rising Long Island stars, in particular, are trying their hand at reaching the ultimate hockey player’s dream.

Michael Coppola, a junior on the University of Connecticut men’s hockey team, is one Long Island native who knows all too well what it takes to succeed. He played for the Nassau County Lions, as well as several junior teams in Suffolk County.

For a long time, players like Coppola may not have been given the opportunity they deserved, but young players coming out of Long Island are starting to be recognized for their talents.

“No one really looked at players from Long Island, but now it’s different,” said Coppola. “A lot of big names have helped us.”

Some of the big names Coppola is referring to are players such as Chris Higgins, Eric Nystrom, and Mike Komiserak, all of whom played youth hockey on Long Island, and have since reached the NHL. And those players are all the evidence a young hopeful like Coppola needs to keep his dream alive.

And for the players who have made it to the top after moving through the Long Island system, it is important to return and help others who stand where they once did. It is not uncommon to see the NHLers who hail from Long Island at area rinks during the offseason, participating at youth camps to help spread the same message they learned when they were young skaters.

“I was fortunate to grow up here,” says Higgins, who currently plays for the Montreal Canadiens. “I grew up playing a couple times at Nassau Coliseum, and I had a couple of camps in Hauppauge where some of the Islanders would come teach. I had a lot of good people around me to help me along; Bob Nystrom, Gerry Hart, and Alexander Nikiforov all had pretty big influences on my career and don’t think I’d be where I am today without those guys.”

Nikiforov, has been helping hockey players on Long Island and in Russia for over 20 years. And while he has helped current NHL players like Higgins—and is still lending is hockey knowledge and expertise to up-and-coming Long Island skaters—he refuses to take credit for their success.

“If they really want to get to another level, they will give 100%,” said Nikiforov. “It’s about work ethic and desire.”

One of the young players Nikiforov has worked with is Long Island native, and junior hockey player, Justin Porpora, who plays for the Cortland State Red Dragons. Porpora, who says he was taught important skills and lessons from Nikiforov, has played extensively throughout Long Island, and hopes of making a career out of hockey.

“I first started playing for the Long Island Royals,” said Porpora. “Then I moved to Suffolk PAL, then to the Atlantic Junior Hockey League.”

While playing in the NHL is certainly a dream for guys like Coppola and Porpora, it is not an unrealistic one. Local product Eric Nystrom, son of Islanders legend Bob Nystrom, understands and emphasizes the importance of coaches like Nikiforov, and has encouraging words for younger players trying to reach the top level.

“Nikiforov is a top notch guy who brings a little European flare and is something Long Island hasn’t seen much of,” said Nystrom. “I was fortune enough to work with him and learn the skills, and he was great at teaching us how to skate. At a young age, he instilled a lot of good habits with us, and we’re so lucky to have guys like that.”

Nystrom, who currently plays for the Calgary Flames, has hockey in his blood and believes that having a passion for the sport is one of the most important factors in playing the game at a high level.

“First and foremost you’ve got to have fun,” said Nystrom. “You’ve got to just enjoy being out on the ice and obviously learning skills at a young age and mastering skills is something that you need to do when you’re first getting the technique of hockey. But it’s all about having fun and loving the competition and loving the thrill of competing against somebody else and that’s the best advice I can give.”

Komisarek, a native of West Islip, who currently plays for the Montreal Canadiens, was taught everything he knows about hockey while growing up on Long Island. He has taken the knowledge and skills he’s used from coaches such as Nikiforov, and translated them into a promising NHL career. Komisarek is adamant that there is no reason why a determined player from Long Island can’t duplicate his success.

“I was never the most talented or skilled player” said Komisarek. “But I loved playing hockey and I loved playing the sport, and I loved working at it and getting better. The kids on Long Island have all the skills and the means––from the skating to the equipment. These kids can take it as far as they want to, as long as they work hard at it. If it’s something they want they definitely could achieve playing in the NHL.”

So while the NHL is the ultimate goal for many young Long Island players, it does not have to be an unrealistic one. With all of the programs and experiences the Islanders Amateur Development Program offers, doors that have just started to open for Long Island athletes might one day be blown off the hinges.

 

 

 

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One Response to “Latest Islanders Illustrated Article”

  1. Lauren Says:

    so you are pretty much the best writer ever. can’t wait to see the article in the actual magazine. so proud of you babe!

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