Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Growth of Hockey in Illinois: Conor Allen

photo by Bridget Samuels/bridgetds

Being from Chicagoland, I was pleased to look at the full development camp roster and see a Chicago native attending Capitals camp: defenseman Conor Allen.

Since I've been living in DC for eight years, I always enjoy chatting with a fellow Chicagoan. I was able to speak with him today, unbeknownst to me, our entire exchange was caught on video and is now on the Caps' website and I'm quite embarrassed at monopolizing Allen.

But I digress. Thinking about the two other Illinoisans in the Capitals system, Zach Miskovic and new signee Danny Richmond, it occurred to me to ask Allen, younger than those two, if he personally has seen youth hockey grow in Illinois, particularly since the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010.

My suspicions were correct. "Everyone loves hockey right now, it's amazing," he said of the effect the Hawks' Cup win has had on hockey involvement in Illinois. "Illinois is getting stronger and stronger every year. We have a great triple-A system, club hockey, the only problem is we don't have a college to go to." No university in the state of Illinois has an NCAA Division I hockey team (though the University of Illinois has hinted at someday adding a Division I team).

Conor Allen, who opted to head east to play hockey at University of Massachusetts Amherst, is a full-on product of Illinois hockey. He played with Team Illinois and the Chicago Blues, a Tier II hockey system that offers a full youth hockey program. 

Allen spent the 2009-2010 season in nearby South Dakota with the USHL's Sioux Falls Stampede, where he scored 15 points (7g-8a) and was a +9. He was twice named Defensive Player of the Week during the season.

Allen just completed his freshman year at UMass-Amherst, scoring six points (2g-4a) in 31 games. But he won't be signing an NHL contract anytime soon; he chose college hockey for a reason. 

"When you grow up in the United States, you idolize the college hockey route and the players. Education, especially in my family, is a big deal. All my brothers and sisters went to school; my dad's a professor," Allen said. 

"And nowadays you can make it to the NHL playing college hockey. You play great hockey and get your education for free. It's really a great way to do it, and you also get the experience of being a college student which is really valuable."

Allen is set on returning to college next year, but he's looking to get some NHL exposure while completing his education. "It's always good to get exposure, live like a pro for a week, and feel it out. Hopefully I can keep the relationship going, and someday be a Capital."

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