SOUTHINGTON — The question brought a wry smile to Bobby Allan’s face and made his father chuckle.
What did you like better? Seeing A’s and B’s on your first Notre Dame-West Haven report card or the red light flash in the Notre Dame hockey team’s first game this season?
Like any 16-year-old hockey player with big dreams, Allan’s answer was his accomplishment on the ice.
“I’d say my first goal,” Allan said.
Yes, Allan scored a goal in his first game at Notre Dame. And Allan, who stands 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, is playing a significant role for the state’s top-ranked high school team.
But the question posed to Allan says all you need to know about why he is playing his junior season of hockey at Notre Dame-West Haven this season instead of Hall-Southington, where he starred last year.
While Notre Dame attracts some of the best athletes in the state and its hockey teams are perennially ranked among Connecticut’s top Division I programs, what drew Allan 30 minutes south from his Southington home wasn’t solely to play against the state’s best.
He chose ND for the other side of high school sports: academics.
“I had to strive to get a better education, be able to maintain my grades,” Allan said. “When I saw my grades go up, I knew I could do it if I applied myself. I was getting the academic support.”
His father, who’s coached his son on various youth hockey teams since Bobby was 3, couldn’t be happier with the family’s decision to switch schools.
“Academics were the main driving force,” Bob Allan Sr. said. “As Bobby mentioned, he really struggled at Southington to maintain higher grades. I know his goal is to play at a higher hockey level, but what was really holding him back were his grades.
“He’s just in a more academic environment,” Allan Sr. added. “It’s not uncommon for Bobby to be on the travel bus and the kids are doing homework on the way to games. Academics come first, and if you qualify to play sports based on your academic performance, that comes second.”
Allan was ready to “make the jump” to Division I high school hockey. As a sophomore at Hall-Southington last season, he led the Division III Warrior-Knights in goals with 19.
In the classroom, however, he wasn’t excelling. He was doing just enough to remain eligible to skate, but his grades weren’t where they needed to be when it came to furthering his hockey career.
That has all changed this season.
Allan’s numbers behind a desk are as impressive as those he’s put up as a second-line forward on the 8-1 Notre Dame squad.
Before trying out for the ND team, Allan (4 goals, 2 assists) made the school’s honor roll last semester. As a result, he’s proving not only to his coach, teachers and parents, but also to himself, that he had the ability to score high both in school and after school.
The academic “support” Allan talks about since transferring starts with Notre Dame’s smaller classes. The private all-male West Haven school has an enrollment of approximately 535 students, according to CIAC numbers. That is far less than the 2,034 the CIAC lists for Southington High School, the eighth largest school in the state.
The pressure to succeed off the ice also comes from hockey coach Larry Vieira, who is in his second season at ND.
“When I first met Larry, he told me my grades had to stay up,” Allan said. “I knew going in that I had to keep my grades as high as I could to play.”
“The parents just thought, educationally, the private school was the best way to go,” Vieira said. “They wanted him to have the opportunity, if he progresses enough, to play at a prep school or college. But that’s a long way down the road.
“So far, he’s progressed wonderfully. He’s a big part of what we are doing,” Vieira added.
Allan admitted that making the move to ND didn’t come without a little apprehension. The Green Knights were, after all, coming off a season that saw them reach the Division I state championship. ND lost to Fairfield Prep 5-2.
Joining ND meant competing against the best in the state and beyond.
“After my sophomore year, I thought I could see myself playing at the highest level in high school,” Allan said. “I could (stay at Hall-Southington) and be one of the best players at D-III. Or I could fit in with a bunch of kids who are at my same skill level.
“I knew there were a lot of good kids returning to ND,” Allan added. “I knew that if wanted to make the ND team, I’d have to try my hardest, and make sure I stuck out.”
Allan did. He not only landed on the right wing of ND’s second line, but also on the Green Knights’ power play.
As its record and ranking prove, Notre Dame is expected to be in the mix again for a state championship. The Green Knights returned nine players from last year’s squad. Adding a player like Allan just makes ND deeper.
Still, Allan wasn’t assured of anything. Vieira didn’t even know Allan was coming to ND until he saw him trying out this past December.
“He just fell into our lap,” said Vieira. “But he was ready from the get-go. Bobby is a big, strong kid, which is obviously a plus in high school.
“But he is a laid-back kid; a calming influence. The kids really love to play with him.”
“He has a natural ability and his size really helps,” Vieira added. “We are happy with the level he’s playing for us. We are just trying to get him to the next level. In order to do that, you have to play at a high level of high school hockey.
“But we always tell the kids there is no rush. If they want you, they will find you.”
It’s tough to miss Allan on the ice.
“Playing college hockey has been a dream of mine,” Allan said. “I’d like to play D-I and I’m striving for that, but if that doesn’t come, I’d be happy to play anywhere.”
Come April, Allan will be playing for a national championship with a West Haven 16U travel team headed to Troy, Michigan. The West Haven team — which features five current ND players as well as the Romano twins of Sheehan, Anthony and Joe — went undefeated against teams from around the Northeast and qualified for the national tournament by winning the state championship.
It was at the 16U team’s tryouts where Vieira first saw Allan skate. It was also the start of Allan’s journey to ND, as he played with several players on the U16 team who attended ND.
“They told me about the school, how it’s such a tight brotherhood at the school and the team,” Allan said. “At first, I was scared (at ND), but now I fit in.
“Playing for Notre Dame and getting a chance to go to Troy, Michigan, with the West Haven U16 team are definitely highlights.”
So are those good report cards.