Following the departure of Carleton Ravens men’s hockey coach Marty Johnston over the summer, former assistant coach Shaun Van Allen stepped up as the interim head coach for the team’s 2017-18 season.
Hockey has been a part of Van Allen’s life for years, having played 855 career games in the National Hockey League (NHL) during a career spanning 13 years, before becoming a coach.
Throughout his career as a hockey player, Van Allen played for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Ottawa Senators, Dallas Stars, and the Montreal Canadiens.
Before his lengthy NHL career, Van Allen first laced up his skates on the rinks of Saskatchewan.
“I grew up in a small village in Saskatchewan and in the winter time we played hockey and in the summer time we played baseball. There was only 250 people so you didn’t have a whole lot of options and it’s something I really enjoyed from a young age,” Van Allen said.
He started his journey to the professional leagues with the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League, where in his draft year he put up 97 points in 72 games, catching the attention of professional scouts.
Van Allen was drafted 105th overall in the 1987 NHL draft by the Edmonton Oilers and immediately started playing for their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Nova Scotia Oilers, who later changed their name to the Cape Breton Oilers.
“I think it was definitely a good stepping stone, being in the AHL. I had one good junior year and then I went to pro hockey and had a lot to learn and I learned a lot in the AHL,” Van Allen said. The 1990-91 season was when Van Allen got his first taste of the NHL, playing only two games and recording no points before returning to Cape Breton. The next year Van Allen received the John B. Sollenberger trophy, which is awarded to the top scorer in the AHL, during a season in which he put up 113 points in 77 games.
At the end of the 1992-93 season, the Oilers let Van Allen go and he signed with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks where he played three seasons before going on to play for the Ottawa Senators, which would be the team he would spend most of his career with.
While playing for the Senators, Van Allen played alongside players such as Daniel Alfredsson, Marián Hossa, and Alexei Yashin.
“When I talk about Daniel and Marián, their work ethics were just unbelievable, and Alexei shot the puck as well as anyone has ever shot the puck, so they were special players and it was a treat to play for those guys,” Van Allen said.
He also played under long-time NHL head coaches Jacques Martin and Michel Therrien during his time in the NHL.
“I think you take a little bit from everyone’s coaching style, and try and make it your own,” Van Allen said. “You’re always looking how could you do something a little bit different, you know how could you improve on that and I think that’s the thing with coaches, even as players, if you stop improving you’re not getting any better.”
During the Senators’ 2002-03 season, the team went far into the playoffs and Van Allen ended up playing 18 playoff games, culminating in a Game 7 loss to the New Jersey Devils.
“It was an exciting time and it was the hardest loss I’d ever had in my life, losing Game 7, and I still remember that feeling, you still get that feeling in your stomach like you want to throw up,” Van Allen said. “We were one goal away from going to the Stanley Cup Final, if that’s not your dream to win a Stanley Cup then you’re probably not in the game for the right reasons.”
Van Allen’s pro-hockey career came to an end after the 2005 NHL lockout. The next year, he joined the Senators organization as director of player evaluation for the team.
Van Allen took the first steps in his coaching career when he joined the Ravens as an assistant coach in 2010.
“I’d like to bring a championship. That’s I think our goal all the time and we don’t like to talk about it in November, but at the end of the year we’d like to be in the mix and have a chance,” Van Allen said.
Van Allen has coached the team to an impressive record of 8-3-1; good enough for fourth in Ontario University Athletics (OUA). Currently, the team sits in fourth place in the OUA East and ranks just outside the U Sports top 10.
The search for the full-time head coach of the Ravens is still on-going and the team hopes to find their coach by the end of this season.
The Ravens and Van Allen will continue to make a push to add another tally to their win column on Nov. 24 against the York Lions.
Article also appears in The Charlatan