Iafallo Delivering for Minnesota-Duluth in Freshman Campaign
by Ryan Evans/CHN Reporter
The book on freshmen in college hockey says that it takes time to assimilate to the speed and strength of the NCAA game. Minnesota-Duluth forward Alex Iafallo must not have read it.
Iafallo has made an immediate impact for the Bulldogs this season. He is second on UMD, and tied for seventh among all freshmen, in goals with 11, and ranks second on the team in points with 21. He was a catalyst for the Bulldogs’ recent seven-game unbeaten streak, which temporarily vaulted them into second place in the NCHC, scoring three goals and five points over that stretch. That included the overtime winner against Minnesota State that sent UMD to the North Star College Cup championship game.
The Eden, N.Y., native was rewarded by the NCHC for the strong start to his career with the conference’s January Rookie of the Month award after leading all league newcomers with seven points last month. He is the only player to be named the NCHC Rookie of the Week three different times this season and credits the people around him in Duluth with helping him make a smooth transition from the USHL — where he racked up 75 points in two seasons with the Fargo Force — to the college game.
“Coming in as a freshman was intimidating at first,” Iafallo said. “Juniors is a different type of hockey, but once I got into it my teammates and coaches really helped me out.”
The speedy Iafallo has done a little bit of everything for the Bulldogs this season. He contributes on offense, but also sees time on special teams on both the power play and penalty kill units. Like all freshmen, he is still striving for consistency, but has shown a work ethic well beyond his years, which, according to UMD assistant coach Derek Plante, is why he’s been able to be so successful so early in his career.
“He’s mature for his years and ready to do the extra work to get better,” Plante said. “He doesn’t have a lot of holes in his game. He’s going to be a big-time player.”
Plante certainly knows a thing or two about how to be successful at the NCAA level. From 1989-93 he was a driving force for Duluth, scoring 96 goals and 216 points, which rank second all-time at UMD, in 138 career games. His career culminated with an NCAA-leading 92-point campaign in his senior season, in which he led the Bulldogs to the WCHA regular season title and was named a first-team All-American, Hobey Baker Award finalist and the WCHA Player of the Year.
After his college career, Plante went on to play eight seasons in the NHL with the Buffalo Sabres, Dallas Stars, Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers, scoring 248 points in 450 career games.
“There’s a lot I can learn from him from a hockey perspective,” Iafallo said of Plante.
Plante has been working with Iafallo this year to round out his offensive game, especially on the power play. Plante has been teaching Iafallo the most opportune times and best spots to shoot the puck in an effort to further increase the freshman’s offensive production.
“He works really hard and gets a lot of chances, but the next step is to score a little bit better,” Plante said of his work with Iafallo. “He’s scoring pretty well, but he has the ability to bump it up to the next level.”
Iafallo got a unique opportunity to further his development this past summer when his hometown team, the Buffalo Sabres, invited him to participate in their Development Camp.
“It was a lot of fun,” Iafallo said of the experience. “I grew up a Sabres fan and always wanted to be a part of that team. It was an honor to be asked to participate.”
The camp allowed Iafallo, who is undrafted, to measure himself against both NHL players as well as some of the top prospects that the NCAA and Canadian major junior leagues have to offer, which he said prepared him well for the rigors of college hockey.
“I just stuck to my own game. That’s what you have to do in those types of situations,” Iafallo said. “I expect a lot out of myself and I thought that experience really helped me be confident in my game heading into the college season.”
Iafallo may be too young to remember, but Plante was best known for his five and a half seasons with the Sabres, and he said that Iafallo’s showing at Buffalo’s camp opened a lot of eyes with his former team.
“I think (after the camp) the Sabres were pretty disappointed that they didn’t draft him,” Plante said. “I think he did really well there and they realized (they) missed the chance to draft a really good player.
“He opened some eyes there. People realized that this kid is for real.”
Bulldog fans have certainly come to discover that as well this season.