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Elmer Ferguson winner Allen first true hockey insider

by Corey Masisak /

TORONTO -- Mario Lemieux does not spend a lot of time speaking to the media, opting to stay in the background as owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins despite being one of the most influential figures for hockey in Pittsburgh and one of the greatest players to ever put on skates.

He is known to confide in a relatively small group of people, so breaking a story involving Lemieux is a little different than with most professional athletes.

Kevin Allen will receive the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award for excellence in hockey journalism Monday, and his plaque is now in the Great Hall at the Hockey Hall of Fame because he has been an important voice for hockey in the United States during his nearly three decades at USA Today. Allen's resume is filled with highlights and awards and attendance at the most important hockey games of the past 25 years.

It also includes a notable scoop in 2000 about Lemieux, as Allen broke the news to the world of an important moment in the career of "Le Magnifique."

"One of the biggest stories that has been broken in the past 30 years was Mario Lemieux coming out of retirement," said Eric Duhatschek, Vice President of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and co-chairman on the committee to select the Ferguson award. "That was a clean kill by Kevin. Nobody else had it. Local guys didn't get a whiff of it. National guys didn't get a whiff of it. Kevin got it. You only get stuff like that with one part asking the right question at the right time, but also having a lot of people in your sphere who trust you and to tell you things.

"Today, everybody is an insider. It is the most over-used term, "NHL Insider." Before that term became virtually meaningless, Kevin was an insider. The only way you can do that is if the people you talk to develop confidence in your integrity and your reporting skills. You need to form a level of trust before people will give you information to be an insider."

Allen started at USA Today in 1986, and he's been covering hockey for a national audience in his paper's unique style. He has been to 27 Stanley Cup Finals and covered more than 600 Stanley Cup Playoff games.

He has also written 17 books about hockey, and has served as president of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

Hockey was a regional sport when Allen started at USA Today, but he has helped the game grow throughout the country.

"What Kevin has done all those years at USA Today is way harder than it looks," Duhatschek said. "The reason is most of us in the newspaper business for years were able to gas on endlessly about the things we care about and write about. The format at Kevin's paper in all the years he's been there has been it has to be tight and bright and concise.

"It is art. Anyone who knows anything about writing knows that spare and concise and getting the message across is really challenging. What's the hallmark of [Earnest] Hemingway's prose? There is nothing flowery about it. It is just spare and really good. I always thought that set Kevin apart from other people. He has a very precise and concise grasp of the language."

Allen has been part of USA Today's coverage of eight Olympics, and he has been to many Canada Cups, World Cups and IIHF World Championships. He received the Lester Patrick Trophy in 2013 for his dedication and service to hockey in the United States.

He was the fifth media member to receive the honor in nearly 50 years of it being awarded.

"I don't think you can say enough about Kevin's impact and the way he cared about international hockey and Team USA," said Pierre LeBrun of and TSN, who is also on the Ferguson committee. "He gave that prominence in his work for a long time when no one cared. Today the world juniors has now become a big thing in the U.S. and a lot of hockey fans watch. Kevin Allen used to be the only American journalist of prominence who cared about that tournament, cared about the worlds, kept the USA hockey program in the limelight through his work at USA Today. I think that was incredibly valuable. I think a lot of young hockey players owe that to Kevin. A lot of people wouldn't have known those tournaments existed if it wasn't for him, frankly, for many years."

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