DETROIT -- After years of asking players what it means to win the Stanley Cup, Kevin Allen finally understands what they mean by their answers.
Allen, the longtime national NHL writer for USA Today, is the 2013 winner of the Lester Patrick Trophy, awarded annually for contributions to hockey in the United States.
Allen received his award during the United States Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony Monday at the Sound Board Theater in the Motor City Casino.
"It's really been a humbling experience," Allen told NHL.com. "I've interviewed so many guys when they win the Cup and they said it's surreal and indescribable and not knowing what to say, that's kind of what I'm going with now. I guess I understand what they're saying. I'm not comparing it to winning a Cup, but I think the emotions for them, it's similar to what I feel."
U.S. HALL OF FAME CLASS OF 2013
Now in his 28th season covering hockey for USA Today, Allen said the biggest reason he got into hockey was because of baseball.
Allen had covered some Detroit Red Wings games while working for a newspaper in Port Huron, Mich., and covered the Detroit Tigers for the newspaper. It was his Tigers coverage that got him noticed by USA Today, which brought him aboard in 1984.
"Rod Beaton, the baseball writer, he was the first USA Today hockey writer," Allen said. "He left to go to baseball. They brought me back to do baseball, but we had thousands of baseball writers and he was the only hockey writer. When he left he told the sports editor, Henry Freeman, ‘Kevin is from Michigan, I bet he speaks hockey fluently.'"
Freeman conducted a national search, and Allen said he knew Freeman offered the job to other people, all of whom turned it down.
"He couldn't find anyone else he liked and I had been doing it two months and he said, ‘Would you consider taking this?' This was in 1986 and I said yeah, absolutely," Allen said.
"I got it then and I've just never left."
Allen has covered countless big events, from Stanley Cup Finals to Olympic hockey tournaments to the final game at the Montreal Forum. But he said the one story that stands out in his mind was a 2003 story on Jordin Tootoo.
"I'm not sure it was the best story I ever wrote, but it was the most fun; it was the Jordin Tootoo story when I went up to the Arctic Circle and followed him around and I went seal hunting with him," Allen said. "Not something that people who know me would think that I would be the least bit interested in and probably would be against, but by the second day I was rooting against the seals and totally with Jordin. It was a life-altering experience for me. To be out in the middle of Hudson Bay with this guy who really had overcome unbelievable obstacles to get to the NHL. If you see where he lives, and while other guys were going to hockey schools and camps when they were 4 and 5, he was hunting seals and caribou and chasing away polar bears with a .22. It was a fascinating event for me."
That's just one of the bigger trips Allen made in his career. Being on the road ate into his family time, which makes being able to celebrate this event with his wife Terri, son Shane and daughters Kelsey and Erin that much more meaningful to Allen.
"I've been USA Today's hockey writer forever but I've been with [Terri] longer," he said. "In my business it's hard on the home life, you're gone. She's been with me riding the roller coaster with me. I've told the story that one time I was listening to her on the phone and she was explaining to her mother if I would be at a family event and she said, ‘It's real simple mom. If St. Louis wins Game 5 and the Red Wings knock off the Toronto Maple Leafs, then he'll be there. Of course, unless Washington and Philadelphia go to Game 7, then he won't be there at all.' I remember sitting there listening and thinking you've got to have the patience of Job to live life like that. It's one thing for me to do it, I'm out here having fun covering events. She was at the homefront with our three kids. I'll be thinking about her."
He'll also undoubtedly be thinking about all the people he's met and places he's been.
"I don't set out trying to win the Lester Patrick Award, but when you get it its sort of … maybe just sort of an indication that through all these years that maybe I did something right," Allen said. "I said this morning in my column, someone told me a story [about] Mike Allison, about getting his first NHL game and wanting to get on the score sheet. I've been in the show a while, and now because I see my name, 2013 [Lester Patrick Award winner], I guess I'm on the score sheet."