Memorabilia Memories with Rick Ackerman
Jake Allen is in goal tonight. The Blues rookie also started last Saturday on the Island and was pretty much left by his teammates to fend for himself in the first period as the Islanders peppered him for three goals (on 12 shots), forcing Coach Hitchcock to yank him in favor of the new "kid" on the block, Martin Brodeur. Of course, the move paid off as the Blues stormed back to outscore New York 6-1 the rest of the game, limiting the Islanders to only 15 shots in the second and third periods. And Brodeur performed admirably against Florida earlier this week, saving his new team from what was looking like an embarrassing loss at home. So, where does all this leave Jake? Obviously, he needs a good outing tonight to bolster his stock since the Blues will have somewhat of an overload in goal when Brian Elliott returns from the IR.
It has been a pleasure to watch the twenty four year old Allen develop into a NHL goaltender, starting with several road-trips to the Blues farm team in Peoria in 2010. Allen was drafted by the Blues in the second round of the 2008 NHL Amateur Draft with the 34th pick, immediately after center Philip McRae was taken with the 33rd pick. Three goalies were selected before the Blues selected Allen, including Chet Pickard by Nashville, Thomas McCollum by Detroit and Jacob Markstrom by Florida. Pickard was a bust, now playing in Europe. McCollum is in Grand Rapids, Detroit's AHL affiliate, with one NHL game to his credit. Markstrom was traded to Vancouver and is currently with Utica of the AHL. Allen shared the nets with Ben Bishop during his freshman AHL year, appearing in 47 games, sporting a 2.52 goals against average and a .917 save percentage with six shutouts. He was slightly better than Bishop, who had a 2.55 gaa and .914 sp with two shutouts in 35 games.
Allen and Bishop also split the 2011-12 season, each playing 38 games. This time around Bishop clearly excelled, winning 24 games with a 2.26 gaa and ..928 sp and 6 shutouts. Sophomore Allen only won 13, allowing an average of almost three goals a game (2.93) with a decent .915 sp and one shutout. Nevertheless, Blues' management obviously liked Allen more since Bishop was traded in February to Ottawa for a second round draft choice (which became Tommy Vannelli, a defenseman currently with Medicine Hat of the WHL).
Allen's junior AHL season in Peoria was shared with Mike McKenna, now with Portland of the AHL, affiliated with the Phoenix Coyotes. In many ways, Allen regressed as his goals against average stayed high at 2.89 and his sp dropped to .904. Worse yet, he only won 13 of 35 games, clearly outplayed by McKenna all season. Despite the hitch in Allen's progression, Blues GM Doug Armstrong had the foresight and patience to stick with him as the number one prospect in goal, and McKenna was not re-signed.
Allen's senior year in the AHL saw a move to Chicago, as the Blues relocated their top farm team in a major cost-cutting move, much to the shock and dismay of the great hockey fans of Peoria. It is not clear exactly what happened over the summer of 2013 (perhaps a successful fishing expedition in New Brunswick that renewed his confidence and faith in himself; Jake is an avid angler), yet hard work and personal determination led to Allen being named the AHL goaltender of the year after a truly excellent season. Jake won 33 of 52 games, with a sparkling gaa of 2.03 and a .928 sp with seven shutouts. At season's end, he was honored with the Aldege "Baz" Bastien Memorial Award and named to the First All-Star team. His real reward was a promotion to the Blues with a one-way $800K contract. Allen will become a restricted free agent at the end of the season, so in many ways his performance, especially in crucial games, will determine his status as the Blues' number one goaltender of the future.
With many, many road-trips to Peoria over the years (and one to Chicago to see the Wolves), I have had many opportunities to not only see Jake tend goal, but also to meet and chat with him. Although soft-spoken and laid-back, Allen has been friendly and loquacious, especially at the annual Tip-a-Rivs dinner in which the Rivermen players acted as waiters and then ate dinner with the fans at a nice steak-house in Peoria. It was one thing to talk some hockey, yet his eyes lit up and he got excited as he explained where he liked to fish the most (home in New Brunswick, of course) and where he had the most fun (deep-sea fishing in Florida). Jake's also a good sport. He accidentally dropped a plate of salad, which brought cheers and jeers from the crowd, yet he took it all in stride, laughing along with everyone else. And he's good with the fans, patiently signing all autographs and taking the time to interact with the kids.
On my recent trip to Phoenix (a 6-1 win with Allen in goal; Schwartz with the hat trick), I happened to meet Jake on the parking lot before the game and he stopped to chat a bit. He was brimming with confidence, quite relaxed, eager and ready to play that night.
Let's hope he has that feeling a lot this season and excels during the playoffs.