From the moment Pat Burns took over as Bruins coach last spring he believed in center Jason Allison. That was all Allison needed.
Canada's top junior player in 1993-94, Allison had struggled with his self-esteem while failing to meet expectations during parts of four seasons with the Capitals, who drafted him 17th in '93. But after being traded to Boston in a six-player deal in March 1997, Allison, 22, emerged during the recently concluded regular season as a game-breaker. After putting up just seven goals and 22 assists in 86 career games with Washington, he had 83 points in '97-98 to rank ninth in the league.
Allison, a 6'3", 205-pounder, is most dangerous around the net, and he was the Bruins' top offensive threat in their best-of-seven first-round series against the Capitals, which Washington led 2-1 at week's end. In Boston's 4-3 double-overtime victory in Game 2, Allison had three points, including an assist on the game-winning goal. "When we got him, he had a huge upside," says Boston general manager Harry Sinden. "At some point that usually comes through."
Allison, who isn't a graceful skater but is difficult to knock off the puck, might never have developed into a star in Washington. He was stung when the Capitals sent him to a skating school in 1996, and he never found his stride under coach Jim Schoenfeld. Even when Allison got into the lineup—he was scratched frequently and often shuttled between Washington and the Caps' affiliate in Portland, Maine—Schoenfeld afforded him little ice time and only at insignificant moments. Allison grew disconsolate, played lethargically and by last season was convinced his skills had atrophied.
Burns, though, saw potential in Allison. From the beginning of this season he assigned him to center a scoring line and also used him to kill penalties and to help Boston protect a lead late in games. In December, Burns called Allison into his office, closed the door and told him how good a player he could be. After Allison had a hat trick on Jan. 8, Burns said, "This guy can make a real impact in this league." Minutes later Allison fairly blushed when told of Burns's praise.
These days the Capitals have a new coach ( Ron Wilson) and play in a new arena (the MCI Center), so Allison said the current series doesn't inspire musings on his past. He prefers to talk about the Bruins and explain why he can stand in the dressing room during his first NHL postseason and vow that he will keep producing. "They have confidence in me here," says Allison. "That gives me confidence in myself."
Franchises in Trouble
Bettman Blames The Wrong Party
Commissioner Gary Bettman's address last month to a group of powerful Canadian business leaders on the troubled state of their country's six NHL franchises was an embarrassment Bettman stood at a lectern in the plush Royal York hotel in Toronto with a main-moth Canadian flag behind him and implied that Canada's government was responsible for the financial hardships of those clubs. The 25-minute speech was a rehearsal for a talk Bettman was to deliver on Tuesday to a parliamentary subcommittee that is reviewing hockey at all levels in Canada.
Bettman was rightfully concerned that three of the Canadian teams—the Flames, the Oilers and the Senators—are struggling, and his vow that he will "not allow Canada's great gift to the world to be diminished in its home country" was admirable. But it's hard to take him seriously. He downplayed both the sharp increase in NHL salaries (up 263% since 1991) and the sharp decline in the Canadian dollar (at week's end it was worth 70 cents U.S.) as significant factors in the teams' troubles. Instead, Bettman cited "pressing issues of building control [and] taxation" as the NHL's main concerns.