NHL goalie gives back to community where it all started

Submitted photo Landon Wheaton couldn’t wait to meet Montreal Canadiens goalie Jake Allen when he visited St. Stephen on Friday, Sept. 3. Local artist Aaron White painted a portrait of Allen for Wheaton, and the youngster was very excited to have the St. Stephen native sign it for him.

ST. STEPHEN – Friday, September 3, hockey fans were treated to a special appearance by none other than local hockey legend Jake Allen. Allen, who began his hockey career right here in St. Stephen is now a goalie for the Montreal Canadiens, but he has never forgotten his small-town roots.

Allen was in St. Stephen to donate 10 sets of player gear, along with one set of goalie gear to the St. Stephen Minor Hockey Association (SSMHA). SSMHA President Mike O’Connell said this is a very big thing, and it’s “nice to have someone like Jake that’s committed” to giving back to the community. In addition to donating the gear, Allen also took questions from many local kids who love the sport of hockey, and had plenty of Canadiens swag to give away.

“He’s always given back to our community,” said O’Connell.

Since leaving New Brunswick to play in the NHL, Allen said he has continued to try to incorporate St. Stephen into the community work he has done as a professional hockey player. He said he grew up in St. Stephen, and this is where his hockey career began. He started as a player, and quickly moved into the position of goaltender.

“I grew up here, and started my hockey career here, started as a goal tender. I still have a lot of those ties to the area,” said Allen.

When asked if he had ever received donations of gear himself as a youth, Allen said he got into the sport using donated gear from SSMHA. Once he decided he was going to commit to being a full-time goalie, his father invested in the equipment he would need to achieve his dream. Allen said donated equipment is ideal for young players who want to try various positions without having to invest a lot of money before knowing if it is right for them, and it is great for families who have kids who want to play but can’t afford expensive sporting equipment.

“I think a lot of kids are in the same boat,” said Allen. “It doesn’t matter, your status or situation, when you try to become a goalie or a hockey player. You try to feel it out. Whether kids either want to try a position or players’ families can’t afford the equipment, that’s what it’s here for.”

Allen said he has always loved the sport of hockey, but as a youngster playing the game, even though he dreamed about one day becoming a professional player, he never actually thought it could happen. Initially, they start playing for the love of the game, and the fun of it. He said as young athletes begin to get older and start playing in the higher levels, they start to realize that playing professional sports could indeed be a possibility. Allen is living proof that this dream can become a reality.

“I think when you get a little bit older you understand it could be a possibility to move onto higher levels, and it keeps building and building. I think all the kids play for fun and the love of the game, the friendships you build, getting on the ice.”

Allen feels that giving back to his home community is important, particularly since New Brunswick doesn’t see as many athletes move on to the professional level as other provinces do. He said he feels this places him on a pedestal of sorts, and he feels the need to give back. He started a non-profit in Fredericton at the age of 25, and he has always made efforts to incorporate St. Stephen into that non-profit. What he loves the most about giving back to his community is being able to put smiles on kids’ faces.

“Just the ability to put a smile on a kid’s face, to make a kid’s day, to make a memory,” said Allen. “I look back on my childhood. Even meeting junior hockey players was a big deal back then. To be able to meet an NHL player in a region like ours is something I take pride in.

“Maybe give a kid some hope and be able to fulfill their dream, but also, maybe if I make that kid’s day, it’s even better. It’s really all about that. It’s not about the hockey. It’s about the personal side of things and doing things that way. Never forget where you come from. This is where I started, and this gave me a chance to be in the NHL.”