? by Matt Trust | AHL On The Beat
The development of one’s work ethic is always unique.
In the case of Hershey Bears head coach Scott Allen, it organically nurtured from early childhood. From indulging in backyard sports with older brother Gary in a Massachusetts neighborhood, to observing tireless working parents and grandparents. This is the life of Allen, who grew up in a sports-loving family, but was the first to lace up ice skates.
“My dad never had skates on in his life,” said Allen. “My mother used to take me skating before there were even indoor rinks in our area, when the parks would freeze over in the winter.”
Now 26 years into a professional coaching career, over 1,000 games coached, and NHL coaching stops with the New York Islanders, Florida Panthers and Arizona Coyotes, a life-long learner is the new bench boss for the American Hockey League’s most decorated franchise. With each and every career stop, Allen has embraced the task at hand and enjoyed his growth, along with its different challenges.
“I think if you sit back and have good observations, you will always be a life-long learner. If you get to the point where you think you know it all, become very stubborn and hard-headed, then it’s tough to keep progressing in both your personal life and in your professional life.”
For Allen, 55, his sights on coaching dated back to his playing days.
“Even before I started playing in the minors, people said to me, ‘What are you going to do when you’re done playing?’ I said, ‘I’m going to coach,’ just as matter-of-factly as that.”
Connected to Hershey, Pa., by Interstate 76 and an abundance of hills and back roads sits Johnstown, with a population under 20,000. A rink nestled within its community, famously known for the hockey movie Slap Shot, is where Allen occasionally played, started his family, and later began his coaching career.
In 1989, Allen’s Carolina Thunderbirds bused to Johnstown for a Game 7 with the East Coast Hockey League’s title on the line. Carolina came out on top with a road victory against the hometown Chiefs.
“We came in the night before on the bus, and people were sleeping outside the arena waiting for tickets to go on sale. We came for the morning skate the next day on the bus, and it was like a scene right out of Slap Shot, you know?” laughed Allen. “People were double-fisting us the bird. And that night for the game, they sold so many seats, people were sitting in the aisles. It was an incredible feeling to win in such a historic place and such historic fans.”
Nearly a decade later, Allen returned to Johnstown as an assistant coach for the Chiefs’ 1996-97 season. Five seasons as a head coach followed before earning his first American Hockey League coaching gig with the San Antonio Rampage in 2002-03.
“To start my coaching career in that city, both my girls were born in that city, still having great friends in that city, Johnstown will always hold a special place in my heart for sure.”
As hockey evolved over decades, Allen remained up to the task with the challenges of adapting. From having his former ECHL bus driver flag down 7-Elevens en route to the next town to restock the protein bars, to now leading and delegating larger staffs. From a lack of video and game film, to players now viewing their shifts on the bus within minutes of their game’s conclusion. But as the game changed, the New Bedford, Mass., native remained consistent with his loyalties. Despite every stop on the road, his mindset never deviated from the present.
“Through the years, I have read a lot. I love reading biographies, not just on other coaches in different sports, but successful people in history,” Allen said. “I see other people who have, for lack of a better term, agendas. And that agenda is always about looking for the next thing, making that next connection, calling that next person. I have a tough time, to be honest, with that. I think your loyalty should stand with the people that you’re working for and the people that you’re working with. There’s no other way for me.”
Allen’s current opportunity leading the Hershey Bears bench came after predecessor Spencer Carbery earned his first NHL coaching gig as an assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs in July. Consistent with his mindset built on loyalty and present-day living, Allen needed time to process inquiries from the Washington Capitals brass, engaging in Allen’s interest of a possible promotion from assistant coach.
In August, Allen, a fanatic of chocolate and hockey’s history, accepted an offer to become Hershey’s 27th head coach after two years assisting on Carbery’s staff. In his introductory press conference, Allen made note of Hershey’s history by lauding a franchise launched in 1938. Nearly two months later, when the Bears met for their first official team meeting on the eve of training camp’s start, and with over 30 players and a coaching staff looking on in the dressing room, Allen’s first words leading the meeting were: “Welcome to the 84th training camp in Hershey Bears franchise history!”
One who loves, one who embraces the team’s history simplifies it with one word: Respect.
“Respect. Respect. I’m a very respectful person on all facets and all aspects,” Allen said. “You have the original six in the National Hockey League, and then you have number seven in this franchise as far as pro hockey goes. That’s incredible when you think about it.
“The list of people that have come through the organization, from players, broadcasters, trainers, equipment guys, coaches, the list goes on and on. Guys who have went on to be general managers and won Stanley Cups in the National Hockey League. The history behind that is special, and it’s a special place with tons of special people that have been through here. It’s tough to describe, but for me is comes down to a 100-percent respect factor for anyone that’s come before us. I think we owe it to this franchise, this town to keep that positive light shining on that.”
Eleven Calder Cup banners hang from the Giant Center rafters dating as far back as 1947, and as recently as 2010. In Hershey, winning is tradition, and winning is the task at hand for Allen — in addition to developing players for the next level. In his eyes, achieving both comes from setting a foundation early, a foundation that precedes Allen’s time with the Chocolate and White to include his days in Florida where he coached Mike Sgarbossa, and on Long Island where he coached current Bears captain Matt Moulson.
“We have guys here who have had a decent run in the National Hockey League, and they’re here for one reason. They want to win. That’s what they want to do, and that’s certainly exciting for me. This is a tremendous franchise that strives to try to win. I had that when I was with the Chicago Wolves. It’s fun to be around because I truly believe you can, and we will, do both. You can win and you can develop players for sure.”
Now for Allen’s Bears, an opportunity to win lies ahead. A postseason in 2020 cancelled due to COVID-19 and an abbreviated 2020-21 season with no hardware awarded can suddenly become long-forgotten with a 12th banner.