Getting to know: Alex Nikiforuk
Genting Casino Coventry Blaze’s most recent signing, Alex Nikiforuk is likely to be a familiar name to most Blaze fans after he spent the 2016/17 tormenting the Coventry side as part of local Elite League rivals Nottingham Panthers.
Born to Anne and Doug Nikiforuk, Alex grew up in the same neighbourhood as the famous Kariya hockey family playing shinny and street hockey with them. The pint-sized forward was noted for his speed and intensity and shone during his first season at the junior B level with the North Okanagan Kings (1999-2000). He was named an All-Star as well as Rookie of the Year and led his conference in scoring. His talents were quickly spotted, ending the year with Junior A (BCHL) side Vernon Vipers where he iced in 9 playoff games (1 goal, 1 assist), plus 6 regular season outings (without score).
The turn of the millennium saw ‘Niki’ focus on junior A (BCHL) hockey full-time with the Burnaby Bulldogs, a town close to his native North of Vancouver where ex-Blaze goalie Brian Stewart hails from. It was to prove a fruitful move for the Canadian being named to the All-Rookie team, coming third in team scoring with 27 goals, 43 assists. The Bulldogs lost in the conference finals that season. For Alex, his second campaign in Bulldogs colours, would be limited to 42 games, but again he impressively ranked third in team scoring with 68 points (19+49). Burnaby would be eliminated in the conference quarter-finals during post-season hockey.
His final season of Junior (2002/03) would again see Nikiforuk ice with a new club, donning the Purple and Black of the Salmon Arm Silverbacks. That year would see the talented youngster again hit the record books. He finished the regular season with 49 goals and 57 assists (106 points). The record in Silverbacks history ranks second for goals and third for total points. He made the All-Star team and was the league’s top-scorer, receiving the Brett Hull trophy for this achievement. Silverware would have to wait for Alex however, as despite a team featuring future NHL’ers Kris Chucko and Travis Zajac, Salmon Arm would lose in the Conference Semi-Final.
Post Junior, Nikiforuk pledged to the NCAA Division 1 University of Nebraska-Omaha, where he undertook a Business Degree. Throughout his four years, he developed into a leadership role, donning an ‘A’ on his chest for years three and four, totalling 44 goals, 65 assists in 151 regular season games. Disappointingly for Alex however, the Mavericks were not to see post-season hockey during his time with the team.
The speedster used his excellent NCAA career to land his first professional contract, heading straight to Europe with Finish Liiga side SaiPa for the 2007/08 season. Spending just 29 games with the Finns, he registered 5 goals, 13 assists before transferring to Wolfsburg Grizzly Adams in Germany’s DEL for personal reasons. At the time of his departure he was leading SaiPa in points.
In Wolfsburg he would play alongside ex-Blaze import Michael Henrich and put up 6 goals, 10 assists in 27 games.
For his second season in Europe, Alex would move to the Metal Ligaen of Denmark, inking a deal with the Herning Blue Fox. He went into the 2008/09 campaign with a growing reputation as a quick, highly skilled forward who knew where the net was. Herning finished top of the regular season table and Nikiforuk fourth in team scoring on a stacked Blue Fox outfit with 22 goals and 30 assists in the regular season plus 4 goals, 8 assists in the playoffs. Herning were to lose in the playoff final to Sonderjyske.
Continuing his euro-trip, the new Blaze forward would move from Scandinavia to the Alps for 2009/10, donning the #9 jersey for Aquille FVG Pontebba of the Italian A league. It would be the start of a three-year spell in Italy. Pontebba, a stone’s throw from the Austrian border would benefit from his scoring touch, achieving a playoff berth after missing out the previous season. Nikiforuk would finish 8th in league for point-scoring (14 goals, 36 assists). The post-season saw the northern side lose in the quarter-finals with the Canadian having 1 goal, 5 assists in 7 appearances.
For his second and third years’ in Italy’s Serie A, Alex would ice with the Valpellice Bulldogs, also adding a letter to the front of his jersey as an Associate Captain. Year one (2010/11), saw him finish the season with 16 goals, 30 assists in the regular season and 3 goals, 11 assists in the post-season which was joint best on the team.
His second, was a professional career best points tally of 22 goals, 40 assists in the regular season, good for fourth in the league and outscored former Blaze star Ryan Ginand.
His time in Italy would however come to an end ahead of 2012/13, as Alex decided to head back to Germany’s DEL with Iserlohn Roosters.
Things though didn’t work out, and Alex instead was to return and flourish in the familiar surroundings of Denmark with EfB Eis Hockey (now Esbjerg Energy).
Despite a mediocre finish for EfB, Nikiforuk’s individual performances shone. He was voted Denmark’s best forward, an All-Star and had the best points-per-game ratio with 21 goals, 33 assists in 34 regular season games. This out-did Steelers’ star forward Tyler Mosienko who iced with Niki in Esbjerg.
Following the second successful stint in Denmark, in 2013/14, Nikiforuk would move and spend the next three seasons primarily with the GCK Lions of the NLB (Swiss 2nd division). As had become common in his career, in years one and two, he lead the team for points (12+31 and 9+24 respectively), earning an associate captain role. In both campaigns, GCK were to miss out on post-season action. However, Nikiforuk would be loaned to Martigny Red Ice to compete in playoff hockey. Quickly adapting to his new surroundings, he led Red Ice in points in the post-season with 4 goals, 6 assists.
A similar story followed for season three, with the Canadian leaving the struggling GCK, moving to an NLB rival EHC VIP as injury cover. That though didn’t last long, as a move to Germany’s DEL2 took Nikiforuk to Bremerhaven’s Fischtown Penguins to complete the 2015/16 season. One admirer of the signing was Sheffield Steelers’ new defenceman Ryan Martinelli, formerly of Belfast Giants who commented, “he certainly knows where the goal is.“
Head Coach of the Penquins, Alfred Prey added, “he is an incredibly quick, technically strong forward.“
Coventry’s latest addition contributed 4 goals, 8 assists in 13 DEL2 regular season games and 3 goals, 3 assists in the playoffs.
For 2016/2017, Nikiforuk took the opportunity to move to Nottingham of the Elite League with former Panthers coach Corey Neilson saying, “He’s fast and he reads the game well and he has been a star in leagues of a higher standard than ours… He’s not going to be the biggest guy on the ice, but he plays gritty. His numbers show he is a playmaker with just about two assists for every goal, but he also knows where the net is.”
It would be a historic season for Nottingham and Nikiforuk, winning the Continental Cup and becoming the first British club to do so. The Panthers #9 led the charge bagging an outstanding 11 points in just 7 games. Whilst away at the Continental Cup, Nikiforuk would also become a father, racing back to the UK for the birth of his first child Knox John (read more).
Picking up three awards at the clubs end of season awards show, including Most Entertaining Player, he posted 32 regular season points (11+21) and an impressive 11 in 12 Challenge Cup matches (8+3).
Last season, would see the now 34-year-old add another Euro destination to his CV, playing with another ‘A’ on his chest for Epinal of the French Ligue Magnus. It was another strong individual season for Nikiforuk, despite the teams struggling as he hit 12 goals and 33 assists, plus a further 2 goals, 3 assists as Epinal were forced to save themselves from relegation.