By all accounts Kevin Allen has scored an infinite number of hat tricks in his career and he’s done it without ever taking the ice. Allen is an esteemed writer whose beat covering the National Hockey League (NHL) for USA Today has culminated into an admirable and awe inspiring career by his journalism peers covering sports, and every hockey fan that ever dreamed of being in the presence of the great Wayne Gretzky. Allen’s first-hand accounts of heart-stopping overtime wins, face pounding fights and the sting an athlete feels long after a black eye has faded, has earned him the 2014 Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award for excellence in hockey journalism at the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Allen, a Wayne native, has been covering sports since he was a journalism student at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) where he wrote for the Eastern Echo. Born in 1956 at Nankin Hospital, he attended school at St. Mary’s Catholic School through the ninth grade and describes himself as an “average” student until he met Sister Pat Hogan his eighth grade year. “She saw potential in me that others didn’t. I wasn’t sure what I could accomplish in life. I wasn’t all that confident. She convinced me that I was capable of achieving much more than I thought I could,” remembers Allen. “She was the first to tell me that I had a flair for writing. I read and wrote more than most kids my age.”
Outside of the classroom Allen did all the things a local kid growing up in Wayne may recall doing – playing little league baseball (on the same fields, at the same time Wayne native and former professional baseball player Pat Sheridan was “tearing up” the league.) He played pick up hockey behind the original recreation building on Wayne Road, delivered Wayne Eagle and Detroit News newspapers and worked at Jack’s Sporting Goods formerly the home of Cunningham Drugs.
Allen’s roots in the Wayne and Westland area run deep. His uncle, Thomas H. Brown, was Westland’s first mayor serving from 1966-69 and his cousin Veronica and Larry Stockwell, own the infamous Chum’s Do-Nut Shop on Glenwood, a staple in the community for more than 40 years.
A 1974 graduate of Wayne Memorial High School, he started writing part-time for the Ypsilanti Press then the Livingston County Press while he was enrolled at EMU where he earned a degree in Political Science and a minor in Journalism. “I wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I grew up reading Joe Falls and decided early that if I wrote about sports I would be combining my two favorite passions,” said Allen.
In 1979 Allen took a job writing for the Casa Grande Dispatch in Casa Grande, Arizona. He worked there just over a year before moving back to Michigan. “In Arizona, I was a half-time political writer and half-time sports writer. One weekend I remember covering eight-man high school football on the Maricopa Indiana reservation on Friday night, Ted Kennedy’s speech on water rights on Saturday morning, Arizona State football Saturday afternoon, Phoenix Suns basketball Saturday night and just to cap a perfect weekend I wrote a story on the local cotton growing industry on Sunday afternoon,” said Allen.
The Port Huron Times Herald hired Allen in 1982 as a reporter and assigned him part-time coverage of the Detroit sports scene which included the Detroit Red Wings. “In those days, the Red Wings held their training camp in Port Huron, which meant I was there in 1983 for Steve Yzerman’s first day as a Detroit player,” said Allen.
While Allen is being lauded for his 30-year career as a hockey journalist, it was his coverage of the 1984 Detroit Tigers World Series Championship that garnered the attention of USA Today, while he worked within the chain for Gannett. He soon found himself on interim assignment for them writing about baseball. Four months later he returned to the Detroit Free Press but that didn’t last long before Gannett called him back to the big leagues and offered him a full time position at USA Today in 1986.
“A week after I began my USA Today career as a general assignment sportswriter, the late, great Rod Beaton said the words to our sports editor that changed my life. ‘Hey Henry. Kevin is from Michigan, which means he speaks hockey fluently. Why don’t you let him cover the NHL until you hire someone?’ Later, Henry came by and said, ‘Do you want to cover the NHL on a temporary basis?’ I said yes, and 29 seasons later I’m still covering the NHL on a temporary basis.”
And by covering Allen really means amassing an understanding and expertise of the game like no other. He’s befriended some of the greatest legends to ever lace up a pair of skates, witnessed notorious moments that have been told again and again throughout hockey rinks, living rooms and bars across the world and chronicled the brutality and beauty that plays out each and every season with as much reliability as a Zamboni clearing the ice before every game.
For that reason Allen earned the NHL’s Lester Patrick Award for outstanding service to hockey in the United States in 2013 and he’s the only writer to make Hockey News’ Top 100 list of most influential people in the sport, each year, since the list made its debut. His latest accolade in the media and sports community has been both rewarding and humbling for the man who recalls being a “poor kid growing up” on “food stamps” and “welfare.”
“I never felt poor because all of my friends were middle class. I guess that I’m proof that it does take a village to raise a child. I ended up with middle class values,” said Allen.
Allen’s traveled far and wide from his beginnings in Wayne. Covering hockey has taken him to the Artic Circle on a boat with Jordin Tootoo, relaxing in Mario Lemieux’s backyard, to cities covering games from the Swiss Alps to the Big House in Ann Arbor and reporting to the world the “night in Pittsburgh when Jaromir Jagr skated through half of Chicago’s team to score a tying goal in the 1992 Stanley Cup Final,” to Philadelphia “when Patrick Kane celebrated the Cup-clinching goal that nobody saw,” and he was “in Lillehammar, Norway when Peter Forsberg scored the goal that put his face on a postage stamp.”
Allen has authored more than 20 books, mostly about hockey. Three of his most recent included an updated version of Darren Mc Carty’s book “My Last Fight;” the as-told-to book with former Detroit Red Wing Chris Chelios titled “Made in America;” and “100 Things to Know about the Red Wings Before You Die,” co-authored by Windsor Star Columnist Bob Duff.
“I have covered nine Olympic Games, World Series, Super Bowls, NCAA Final Fours and NASCAR races,” said Allen. “I’ve done one-on-one interviews with Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and former Vice President Al Gore.”
With a resume of achievements any sports journalist would covet and a treasure-trove of stories every hockey fan is envious of, Allen says his greatest accomplishment is his marriage to wife, his three children and his new role as a grandfather.
In his acceptance speech at the Hockey Hall of Fame ceremony, Allen said:
“But the truth is my best work has nothing to do with hockey. My best work came with the young people sitting at my table. I have three children and a daughter-in-law who is like another daughter. All of them have advanced degrees in saving the world. Two are teachers, one is in public health and one is an occupational therapist specializing in early intervention. I’m proud of what I’ve done in my life, but I’m more proud of what they have accomplished. I’ve spent my life in the fun and games department, while they devote their lives to helping those around them. Most of credit for who my children have become should go to my wife. I’ve known her now almost 44 years. Every story I ever wrote should have had her name next to mine in a double byline because she has been a partner in everything good I’ve done in my life.”
If you’ve ever read any of Allen’s stories over the past three decades it’s not hard to see why he’s earned the trust of owners, managers, coaches, hockey players and sports fans alike. His expertise and passion for a beat that virtually fell into his lap has been the game winning formula for a career that will undoubtedly bear witness to an untold number of great articles for years to come.