Saturday, August 02, 2014
The last time the Los Angeles Kings were in the Stanley Cup finals, Conor Allen was rooting for them. LA goalie Jonathan Quick was a former UMass hockey player and Allen was a current one in 2012. The support was natural.
Allen won’t be rooting for Quick this time around. In fact, the next time the New York Rangers are in the Stanley Cup, UMass players might all throw their allegiance to the Blueshirts. By then Allen might be on the ice.
Right now, Allen, who left UMass a year early a year ago to start his professional career, is as close to being on the Rangers without actually being on the Rangers.
After a strong first season as a professional with the Hartford Wolfpack, New York’s top minor league team, Allen is one of seven players — six skaters and a goalie — on a practice squad for the Rangers. The group practices separately from the active roster to stay in game shape and be prepared in the event that reinforcements are required due to injury or suspension.
“It’s a lot of fun. We try to stay out of the way as much as we can, let them do their business,” Allen said. “But it’s fun to be involved. It’s fun to be in New York. It’s fun to go to the home games.”
That Allen was chosen to be part of the squad speaks well of the Rangers’ projections for the 24-year-old’s future.
“Everyone here is a prospect and high up on the minor league depth chart. They’re not really focused on us right now, but it’s nice to know that they know who we are,” said Allen, who had 39 points (14 goals, 25 assists) in three years as a Minuteman. “It’s a lot of motivation. Being in an NHL setting more than usual makes you want to be there full time. And New York City, this is where you want to be. It shows us how much work we need to do this summer to try to make the team in training camp.”
He figures to have a shot. Allen appeared in three games for New York from Dec. 29 to Jan. 3 before being sent down without scoring a point. But in Connecticut, he was among the league’s top rookie scoring defensemen with six goals and 25 assists in 72 games.
Allen was frustrated that despite a good finish to the year, the Wolfpack’s sputtering start kept them out of the AHL playoffs.
“It leaves a bitter taste in our mouths to play so well down the stretch and not make the playoffs,” Allen said. “It makes you want to work a little bit harder. It motivates you to get a lot better.”
Having the Rangers extend their run into June gives him more practice and more time to develop in front of the organization’s top brass. After Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals Wednesday, there are at most six games left before the team’s players scatter. Allen knows the chances to see game action or even practice time with the Rangers is unlikely. They live in a hotel near the team’s practice rink in Tarrytown, New York, and sit high in Madison Square Garden’s “eye-brow” level, a box above the corporate suites near the Rangers’ 1940 Stanley Cup champions banner. It’s about as far from center ice as possible, while still being inside the legendary arena, but Allen is glad to have his small piece of the action.
“We have our own skate before they practice. If someone needs a day off or gets hurt, they bring one of us in to fill in for them. It’s only happened once so far,” said Allen, who wasn’t the player called in to practice. “There’s been a couple of circumstances when the team had a day off, but an injured player needed to skate to get ready for a game, so they ended up skating with us. That’s a lot of fun because it gives us a chance to feel like we’re doing something for the team. We’re not really around those guys that much. We understand the chances are really slim. But we’re just enjoying it here. The group of guys here is really really great. If they need us, hopefully we’ll be prepared.”
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage