For a lot of professional hockey players, the sport is all they've ever known. Many of them grew up around the game and began their careers at a young age. So when a player retires from the game, the transition to normal life isn't always easy.
Some stay in the hockey realm by joining a hockey operations department. Others might find a calling in broadcasting. But there are also those who aren't necessarily sure what the next chapter has in store. Former Ducks defenseman Bryan Allen was one of them.
The 38-year-old Allen was a 15-year veteran of the National Hockey League, starting his career with the Vancouver Canucks in 2000 after the club selected him with the fourth overall pick in the 1998 NHL Draft. From there, he went on to play with the Florida Panthers (2006-11), Carolina Hurricanes (2011-12), Ducks (2012-14) and most recently the Montreal Canadiens (2014-15).
Like a lot of his peers, his life revolved around the sport for as long as he could remember. He played youth hockey in and around his home province of Ontario (he's a Kingston native) and played juniors in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). He played briefly in the International Hockey League (IHL) and American Hockey League (AHL) before carving out a long career in the NHL. But when he retired at the conclusion of the 2014-15 season, Allen found himself with a lot of down time - not that it was a bad thing.
"Transition for everyone is different," he said, prior to the Ducks-Coyotes game at Honda Center in late December, where he was invited to celebrate the 2010-14 third jersey tribute night. "We go through it differently. It was tough. There were times of not knowing what you were going to do or what your purpose was. When we're playing, that was our life right from a young age."
He cherished the time he got to spend with his wife, Lexie, and two kids, Layla and Brenner. "Having two young kids, I was able to spend a lot of time with them and do all the things I couldn't do before," he says. "Into the new year - that first year - it was a realization when the holiday season was over. Everyone went back to work and all of my other friends were still playing hockey. That was the moment of realizing I needed to do something and find something to do. It's really open the door to other possibilities and options. It's been fun. It's definitely been a process. It's been four years since I've played. It's not that long, but long enough."
Allen didn't know for sure what he wanted to pursue in his post-hockey career. But after attending a networking group, he developed a fondness for business. One thing led to another, and Allen landed a job with the accounting firm Squar Milner serving as a business development manager, a position he's held since June 2016.
"I started looking at my options, and it sort of fell into place," he said. "It's been really good in the sense of learning the business world. Accounting is everything if you have a business. I took some classes at UCI to get a better understanding. It's been good."
Allen also finds time giving back to the local hockey community. As a Ducks alumnus, he is active in the Little Ducks hockey program - a paid six-week program that provides new players with on-ice sessions with professional coaches and Ducks alumni. It was developed as part of the NHL's Learn to Play Hockey initiative, the joint effort by the NHL & NHL Players' Association (NHLPA) to make hockey more accessible.
He and his family have stayed in the Orange County area since he retired from the game. They recently built a house in Monarch Beach, located within the city of Dana Point, and moved in last spring. There was the option of moving back to Florida where the Allen family still owned a house or back to Canada where he's originally from, but they found comfort here.
"The people are nice and the communities we've been a part of, and the people we've met, have made it feel like home," he said. "My kids were at the age where they were a couple years into school. We had our life going here. It's not a bad spot. We live near the ocean."
Allen says his time with the Ducks (115 regular-season games and 20 Stanley Cup Playoff games) were "some of the most fun years of my career because we had good teams. Prior to that, I wasn't as lucky." Allen appeared in 68 games with the Ducks during the 2013-14 season and helped the club finish with the second-most points in the NHL (116), second only to Boston (117). That season, the Ducks finished with a 54-20-8 record and advanced to Game 7 in the Second Round of the playoffs.
Being a part of the historic Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game against the LA Kings at Dodger Stadium on Jan. 25, 2014 is a moment he'll never forget. "One of the best memories of my whole career," he said. "To have that chance was pretty special. Walking out, I can still picture it with all the palm trees and fireworks. It's a pretty cool memory."
Like many others, Allen is totally on board for another outdoor game in Southern California. "One hundred percent," he said. "I think it's great for the sport and diehard fans here. There is a commitment the fans have made to hockey. The sport is growing. Being a part of the [Little Ducks] Learn to Play program, the programs at every rink are sold out or filled up. It's a cool experience.
"If you look from a fans' perspective, even if you don't live in the area, it's cool to see that, too. It's grown enough that there is an appreciation for it."