In a day and age when Twitter trolls get their kicks from saying mean-spirited things to professional athletes, Jake Allen was touched at the sight one day of a little boy holding a sign during the height of his struggles.
Down in the dumps during what was a gut-wrenching January, the St. Louis Blues goalie looked at his Twitter account (@34jallen) and spotted a tweet from Mason Gilbert’s dad, Scott.
The tweet showed a picture of a child, wearing Allen’s Winter Classic sweater, holding a sign that read in magic marker, “Dear Jake Allen, you are my favorite player. I hope you win tonight. I know you can do it. You’re a great goalie. Love, Mason. I’m 5 years old.”
Allen won five of his next six starts and was so heartwarmed by the picture, he invited Mason to the Blues’ practice facility in February. He answered the boy’s questions, let him hold his mask and autographed a stick on which he thanked Mason for the much-needed pick-me-up.
“I think he was probably the only guy that was a fan of me,” Allen said Thursday, 14 hours after the game of his life ended — a 51-save, 2-1 overtime victory over the Wild in Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals. “It was a really tough time for me, but it just goes to show, he’s a good kid, comes from a good family and it’s nice to see.”
A few weeks ago, Allen invited Mason and his mom, Robyn, to Scottrade Center, where he brought the boy into the locker room before a morning skate and let him try on his special Blue Angels mask.
These days, as Allen and the Blues head into Friday night’s Game 2 up 1-0 in the series, Allen is in a much better place than the first time he met Mason.
At the time he saw Mason’s note, Allen had the worst save percentage and goals-against average of any No. 1 goalie in the NHL. But from Feb. 1 on, which coincided with Mike Yeo taking over as head coach and Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur, the Blues’ assistant general manager, assuming the goalie coach role, Allen led all NHL goalies with a 1.85 goals-against average and .938 save percentage. He won 11 of his final 15 regular-season games.
Wednesday night, the Wild, its fans and the hockey world discovered these stats “are not inflated, are not misleading,” Yeo said. “He’s been nothing short of phenomenal for the better part of three months right now.”
Yeo gives credit to Brodeur, who agreed to work with Allen and Carter Hutton. The Blues backup goalie had strikingly similar subpar stats to Allen’s back in January. Since, Hutton has strikingly similar stellar stats to Allen’s.
For Allen, imagine being a 26-year-old goalie with broken confidence getting to work daily with arguably the best goaltender of all time.
“We looked at it as a clean slate and said, ‘Let’s start over,’ ” said Brodeur, a three-time Stanley Cup champ, two-time Olympic gold medalist and four-time Vezina Trophy winner with an NHL-record 691 wins and 125 shutouts. “For me, it’s attitude. Like, I’m not going to show him how to do a butterfly, how to be competitive.
“But your position, the way you play, the way you get squared, the way you get ready for games, being in the flow of the game, it’s simple stuff that for whatever reason it got away from his game.”
Yeo said Brodeur, who took over for the fired Jim Corsi, identified flaws in Allen’s game and immediately addressed them.
“He gave him areas of strong focal points,” Yeo said. “Now, Jake goes into every game prepared, feeling confident. There’s no question marks in his mind as far as why pucks are going into the net. Marty’s real quick to point out why it’s happened. It’s put a real feeling and sense of control in Jake and with that’s come an awful lot of confidence.”
In between periods, Brodeur — like many goalie coaches, including the Wild’s Bob Mason — goes to the locker room from the press box to refine things with Allen or Hutton. He didn’t have to do much tutoring during Wednesday’s game against the Wild.
Allen was that fantastic. But most of their off days are spent working on the ice, then watching video.
“I’ll pause it and say, ‘What are you thinking there when you’re in that position?’ ” Brodeur said. “In practice, we’ll have conversation and do little, dinky drills, but nothing crazy, that really helps him in certain areas.
“But apart from that, he’s the one stopping the puck, he’s the one competing. It’s been good. Same thing with Hutton. You know me, I’m pretty easygoing. Whatever they want to do, they do. If I see something, I just tell them, and they take it or they don’t.”
Yeo, laughing, says he’s already begging Brodeur to stay in the same role next season. But with a 7-year-old at home, Brodeur plans to return to solely being the Blues’ assistant GM.
“I think there was a period of time where Jake was questioning what was going on, why things were not going well,” Yeo said. “Marty’s come in and stabilized that, figured out exactly what it is, and that’s given Jake a whole bunch of confidence.”
The Wild spent its off day Thursday trying to figure out better ways to execute and find a way to get more pucks behind Allen. But the Blues know they’re playing in front of a goalie that has been pretty special for two-plus months now.
“I think [with] goalies, it’s all confidence,” defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. “I’m sure he’d be the first to tell you there was a stretch early in the year where he wasn’t playing very good and he wasn’t very happy about it. Whatever he did to reset things and get in the frame of mind, he’s our No. 1 goalie, and realistically in the playoffs, teams that have success, it’s because of their goalie.”
For Brodeur, watching Allen’s play is especially satisfying. But he says the credit goes to Allen, not him.
“It’s fun. I don’t think I did too much,” Brodeur said. “I think I did enough to trigger the right attitude about his game. He has done the rest.”