Conor Allen leaves UMass behind to fulfill his dreams

By Nick Canelas

Courtesy Eddie Olczyk

It was a bittersweet feeling for Conor Allen when he signed a professional contract with the New York Rangers on Friday.

Yes, he was fulfilling his lifelong dream of signing a professional hockey contract. But it also marked the end of his three-year career with the Massachusetts hockey team.

Allen was arguably the most reliable defenseman for UMass throughout his career and capped it off with a strong 2012-13 campaign. The junior led all Minutemen defensemen in scoring with 19 points on five goals and 14 assists, and was a fixture on both the power play and penalty kill units.

Allen was expected to lead the UMass blue liners again next season, but after much debate, decided it was time to take the next step in his hockey playing career.

“It was really hard,” Allen said. “You wanna do the best thing for you and it’s really unclear on what that is. You’ve got so many different options and it came down to what’s best for me and my hockey career.”

Allen was aware that there was interest from NHL teams all year. And once the season ended on March 9, he was immediately contacted by multiple NHL teams and asked about his plans for next season.

He contemplated the decision for about three weeks and once he knew he was leaving school it was between the Rangers and the Nashville Predators. Ultimately, he decided the Rangers were the best choice for him.

“It was a tough decision, but I had to go with my gut,” Allen said. “It helps to be a free agent because you can kind of dissect these teams and try to see where you’ll fit in the best, but anywhere you go you’re gonna have a lot of competition and I felt the Rangers were the best spot for me right now so I just went with my gut.”

Allen will officially put UMass behind him when he reports to Hartford, Conn., on Tuesday for his first practice with the Connecticut Whale – the Rangers AHL affiliate.

He hasn’t skated since the end of the season, and with the Whale having only eight games left in their regular season schedule, Allen is unsure where or if he’ll be placed in the lineup this year. The Whale are in position to make the AHL playoffs right now, so that may open the door for the defenseman to see some ice time this season.

Regardless of his status for the rest of this year, Allen’s ultimate goal is to make it to the NHL. Allen would join former UMass players Matt Irwin and Casey Wellman, who have recently seen ice time for their respective NHL teams, while former UMass goaltender Jonathan Quick is coming off a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy campaign last season.

While Allen knows it won’t be easy, he sees the contract as a reason for optimism.

“I don’t think they’d make me this offer if they didn’t think I’d have a realistic chance of it happening,” Allen said of his NHL chances. “But it comes down to me at the end of the day. What I can do at Hartford, what my goals are and that’s 100 percent where my head is: making it to the NHL.”

However, Allen believes this opportunity wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for his time at UMass.

“My game has really improved in my time at UMass,” he said. “Not only in terms of skill and speed, but my confidence level is super high. The coaches really believed in me.”

Allen said the best decision he’s ever made was to come to UMass. But now he’s left to say his final goodbyes and put this chapter in his hockey career behind him. Allen does plan on finishing his degree someday, so it may not be the last time he sets foot in Amherst. But for now it’s time for a new challenge.

“I gotta continue to challenge myself,” Allen said. “I think at UMass when I came in there was a huge challenge in front of me and other guys too. We all stuck together and got better and that’s what I’m out to do now at Hartford.

“I just gotta play well and keep my head up and continue to work on my game and hopefully all things go well and I can get a chance at the NHL someday.”

Nick Canelas can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.