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Bigger, Tougher, Stronger (Н.Алексеев) - Тамpa Tribune
By ERIK ERLENDSSON
BRANDON - When the going gets tough, the Lightning's Nikita Alexeev gets tougher.
Throughout his career, the No. 8 pick in the 2000 draft has responded to adversity and has accepted the challenges facing him. This year is no exception.
After a rocky rookie season, Alexeev, 20, has been working hard since the end of May to ensure he plays more than 44 games at the NHL level this season. With a battle brewing at right wing in training camp - the Lightning's deepest position with Shane Willis, Martin St. Louis, Sheldon Keefe, Jimmie Olvestad, Ben Clymer and Andre Roy - the native of Murmansk, Russia, has added more than 20 pounds to his 6-foot-5 frame.
Following a four-week vacation - which included his first trip to Russia since he left five years ago and a trip to Norway to see his mother for the first time since 1997 - Alexeev has spent time nearly every day either on the ice or in the weight room. He traveled to Orlando five days a week for nearly a month and paid for his ice time, sometimes up to four hours, to make sure he could get on skates.
Alexeev left for Chicago last Wednesday to work out with other NHL players for a week. He plans to return for rookie camp, which opens Monday in Brandon, before heading to Montreal for two weeks to conduct more workouts with players before returning for camp.
``I have been doing a lot of shooting because I know I have to get better. I want to improve my one-timers,'' said Alexeev, who had four goals and eight points last season. ``Off the ice, I've been doing a little bit of conditioning, running three miles a day, doing jumps and a lot of weight training.''
During exit interviews at the end of the season, players are given an off-season training program to follow, but that wasn't enough for Alexeev. After he completes the guidelines set forth by the team, he does extra workouts, primarily to increase the muscle size in his shoulders and neck. He topped out at 235 pounds and has since dropped to 230. Alexeev says he wants to be down to 225 by the time camp opens Sept. 12 at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon.
``He took to heart what we told him at the end of the season,'' Lightning coach John Tortorella said. ``We told him he needed to come in a little bigger and he has done that. A lot of things right now are in his control as far as his place on this team. He's going to push a lot of people.
``He's a good model for a lot of our young players in terms of working hard in the summer. There were a lot of questions about his work ethic and his consistency, but I think he really began to understand in the second half of last year about what it takes to be in this league and stay in this league. It's very exciting to see his potential.''
When challenged in the past, Alexeev responded.
He arrived in Erie, Pa., in 1997 to start his junior career as a skinny 16-year-old with only the clothes he was wearing and no concept of the English language. With the help of his agents he upgraded his wardrobe and with the help of some ``Friends,'' he picked up the language.
With no Russian teammates around to converse with, Alexeev holed himself up in his room with a television and a remote control. He emerged two weeks later with a working knowledge of the language, in large part to the sitcom ``Friends.'' He also went to the movies a lot - ``Braveheart'' is one of his favorites - to learn as much as he could.
``We were just happy that he went to go see a lot of PG and PG-13 movies instead of some of the more adult variety,'' joked John Wilkins, who was part of the agency representing Alexeev when he arrived in North America.
In his first season with Erie, Alexeev scored 17 goals, but was easily bumped off the puck. So he worked hard during his first off-season and added 15 pounds of muscle. Alexeev's second season resulted in an 18-point improvement, and better balance when protecting the puck.
When he arrived for his first NHL training camp in September, Alexeev was challenged to make the team out of camp, which he did. But he didn't live up to expectations and was sent to the minors; he even missed a flight during a December call-up.
When he finally came back in late January, he stuck. Alexeev took advantage of injuries to key players and showed the coaching staff he wanted to stay with three goals in the final 19 games after one in his first 25.
``It seems every time we raised the bar on Nikita, he would jump over
it,'' Wilkins said. ``That's what he is doing now.''
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