EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Alex Iafallo grew up like so many kids in Western New York: He played in the snow. The Eden native loved snowboarding and hockey.
He's kept the hockey part, of course, all the way to a top-6 role at forward for the Los Angeles Kings. But the snowboarding has translated into a more California lifestyle.
Iafallo became a surfer dude over the summer. Seriously.
"It's pretty special. I did it in the offseason. I kind of taught myself to stay active," a smiling Iafallo said Friday after the Kings' practice in Toyota Sports Center. "It's pretty fun out there, very relaxing to hit a couple waves and be out in the ocean."
How does one teach himself surfing? Iafallo's lifelong winter pursuits certainly helped, especially the balance needed to snowboard and ice skate. That allowed the 24-year-old to survive the Pacific Ocean waves off Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach, where most of the Kings live.
"It was hard. It took me a while, like two months," he said. "The way you're getting up quick is some of the exercises we do. Read the waves. It's been fun."
Things haven't been as much fun lately for his fall and winter pursuit. The Kings enter Saturday afternoon's matinee with the Buffalo Sabres coming off a 7-2 home drubbing they absorbed at the hands of the New York Islanders in Staples Center.
The Kings are 29th in the NHL in scoring at two goals per game. The Sabres are 30th at 1.86. At 2-4-1, Los Angeles is off to its worst start since 2007.
"That's not what we want and we talked about it a lot," Iafallo said. "We've got to have a fresh start here. That happens sometimes. We have to come together as a team, stick with it and trust each other."
Iafallo had nine goals and 16 assists in 75 games as a rookie last season. He's got two goals and four assists in the first seven games this year.
"We want him to continue to try to improve his ability to score, finish offensively and not give up the detail in his game and he hasn't," said Kings coach John Stevens. "He's a guy starting to get some special teams opportunities. We like the detail in his game. We like the motor that he plays with. He was definitely a pleasant surprise last year. He was a big part of our team last year and is again this year."
And now Iafallo is not even the only pro player in his family. His sister, Julianna, is playing this year for the Buffalo Beauts after serving as a captain at Ohio State.
"That's pretty cool. She scored her first pro goal and her team is looking good," he said. "I wish I could watch more games but I'll be able to soon.
"They have a good organization and setup there having that in Buffalo in the HarborCenter. Everybody seems to be getting into it every year. She's excited about it. Everybody is excited about it."
As for meeting the Sabres? Iafallo smiled and said simply, "Always fun."
Saturday's game will be a bonus. Because it's a 3:30 local start, there's expected to be a large gathering of family and friends watching at The Towne House in Hamburg. That's the tavern run by Iafallo's father, Tom.
"Usually our games here end at 1, 2 o'clock in the morning there so nobody can watch as long," he said. "It should be fun. they're gonna head there, hang out there and watch the game."
Sabres coach Phil Housley would not commit to the return of Patrik Berglund to the lineup Saturday. The veteran center was a healthy scratch for Thursday's 5-1 loss in San Jose.
"It's a tough situation. You have to make difficult decisions," Housley said. "You never want to see a guy get sat out but that's part of the 20-man roster. He'll get an opportunity. We'll make that decision tomorrow. If he's in the lineup, we hope he has a good response."
The Sabres are going to see Los Angeles center Anze Kopitar (illness) return to the lineup Saturday and Anaheim center Ryan Getzlaf (groin) return Sunday. Getzlaf, who has missed five games, is slated to play Saturday in Vegas.
In addition, it's likely the Ducks will start longtime former Sabre Ryan Miller in goal Sunday. Miller's next victory will be No. 372 of his career, tying him with Andy Moog for 17th on the NHL's all-time list. He also needs three wins to tie John Vanbiesbrouck for the most wins by a US-born goaltender at 374. Miller won 284 games for the Sabres from 2002-2014.
Saturday's game was originally slated to be a 4 p.m. Eastern/1 p.m. Pacific start when the schedule was announced in June but the Kings moved it back a half hour to accommodate the arena's changeover to basketball. At 7:30 p.m. local time, the Lakers will stage their home opener against Houston and it will be the first regular-season home game for LeBron James.
Staples Center has been a busy place this weekend. The Los Angeles Clippers had their home opener there Friday against Oklahoma City.
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) October 19, 2018