Top photo courtesy Kate Frese. Bottom photo of Allie and her Dad celebrating her goal on Senior Night at Syracuse, courtesy of Allie. Read her interview to find out why this moment was so was so special for her.

ALLIE LaCOMBE: SOUTHERN EXPOSURE


They don’t call Nashville “Music City” without reason. Home of the Grand ‘Ol Opry, and a music style called the Nashville Sound, it’s place in our musical culture is is undisputed, and it’s influence is worldwide. But even in the music industry, most musical artists associated with Nashville, were not born there, they moved there. The legendary Kitty Wells being a notable exception to that fact. And by any metrics, Nashville is one of the fastest growing metro areas in the country. People are coming to Nashville. And so is women’s hockey, which you probably noticed last year when the NWHL held it’s wildly successful All-Star Game there. Someone else who has relocated to Nashville’s hockey community is our new forward, #13 Allie LaCombe.and she is enjoying the Southern exposure.

Cetacean Nation was recently able to catch up with the well traveled Allie, and found out, among other things, why she now calls Nashville home. We connected with Allie on her way back from her place of business, The Hockey Lab (labhockey.com). So we asked Allie to start off her story by telling us about that, and she obliged with these comments:

 “I actually just left the Lab! It’s a three on three training facility, and I have about a half a sheet of ice and I’m the general manager and head coach It’s in a warehouse in Tennessee a little south of Nashville. So we do group training, camps, clinics, leagues, three on three tournaments, and private lessons. So I am on the ice every night, five hours a night. We have a Zamboni and I run the Zam! I had to change the oil myself today in the Zamboni, and that was a disaster. Luckily, I get some help. Sometimes a good friend of mine, who is also the Pred‘s emergency back up goalie, helps with the Zan, and also helps train me. Luckily I have a huge support system in Nashville, it is just like a big family, you’d be surprised. Everyone knows everyone and we care for each other and do stuff for each other,so it’s so been really, really nice. But yeah, I do most of the maintenance, I do the chillers the compressors, so yeah, I run the whole rink, on top of coaching it all too! How I have time to sleep, I don’t know:) But I love the Lab. There are only three full-size rinks in Nashville and the hockey market is pretty big here. So the kids love it for the supplemental skills development that they don’t really get in a big group setting.”

Allie continued, explaining how the Hockey Lab came to be, and how she became involved, noting:

“When I moved to Nashville, I originally helped open up a dry land training facility. It was all off ice, and I think it was just a little bit premature for the market. There’s a huge need for ice. I also help to run the girls Jr Predators (nashvillejrpredators.com) program which is a travel hockey program. A couple of parents within that girls program bought the Lab a couple of years back. So I was looking for work and they obviously really wanted me to work there and coach their kids. I had recently taken over as GM to run the rink, so it really got started through a group of parents.“

Cetacean Nation thought that sounded like a pretty good hockey culture might be in place. So we also asked Allie about the NWHL All-Star Game in Nashville last year, and how that fit into that hockey culture in Nashville. She informed us:

“I was there at the ASG. Some of the biggest supporters of girls hockey in Nashville are the alumni like Chris Mason (12 year NHL goalie) who coaches one of the teams. So it’s great for everyone just in general. Our girls were there at the game, and we had a booth. There was great overall awareness of girls and women’s hockey, everyone was fired up about it! The whole town talked about it, they loved it down here. So, it’s a pretty big deal in Nashville, there are a lot of NWHL fans you’d be surprised.”

Allie added: “I think it would be awesome (for the NWHL to come to Nashville) because I would love to play there and live there. Obviously there are some other markets that I could foresee them going to first, like Pittsburgh. Or how they went out to Minnesota. I just rethink with the demographics down here, hockey is booming, The market is booming, in the facilities and infrastructures are here, and there’s a lot of job opportunities in Nashville right now. With the economy, people are moving here constantly, so it’s definitely a thriving city. And so adding a professional women’s hockey team, we’d just add to that. With the Pred’s being here, and an MLS soccer team, it just started I think, it would be great. I would love to help be a part of that."

Allie offered support for her thoughts, with some insight into the girl’s programs she’s involved in, saying:

“For girls program with the Jr Preds, we have a tri-stare model, and I have kids from the Carolina’s, Florida, Louisiana, Atlanta, Georgia. They all come to play for us in Nashville, so they are coming from all over to play for the Jr. Preds, which is pretty cool. Cetacean Nation was not familiar with girls hockey in Louisiana, and Allie remarked: “Me either, until I got down here! Some of the best hockey players we have are from there. We have a couple from down there, and another parent owns a rink down there. I think it’s Baton Rouge, and they travel up as required. It’s mandatory that we meet once a month for a big high performance weekend because obviously they are not in town. But hockey is growing everywhere down here. Atlanta is huge, Nashville, Huntsville, and Knoxville there’s more hockey than ever! Coming from Minnesota I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I love it down here."

Yes, you read that correctly. Our advocate for Nashville hockey was born and raised in the State of Hockey. Cetacean Nation thinks that gives Allie a unique perspective when speaking about the hockey culture in Nashville, Allie told us:

“The Preds have done a great job. Obviously Minnesota is a breed of it’s own. And when you’re from that world, you don’t really know much from outside of it until you get out of it. With the amount of travel alone, it’s a lot of travel for everyone else in the country besides Boston, Chicago and Minnesota. But the Pred’s do a really good job of grassroots marketing and TPH, Total Package Hockey, with the Junior Preds. They have a huge fan base and they really advertise to the clientele. But if you think about it, the season-ticket holders have been here 20 years. So you think that they’re new people, but really they are long time hockey fans. And that’s what I found when I came down here, that they been fans forever. The city has always been a hockey city but no one really knew until it was broadcast, especially during the playoff run a couple of years ago against the Penguins, it was awesome.” 

Since we’ve mentioned Allie’s hockey roots in Minnesota, we asked the Eden Prairie native about her early days in the sport. She revealed:

“ My younger brother (24, that’s young:)) was a goalie. He started out as a goalie and gosh, he was fantastic! He was rated the top goalie in Minnesota in high school and went on to play some juniors, so I always had someone to shoot on. He started playing hockey first and then I said that I wanna play,, and I started playing around the age of seven and never looked back. My brother played at Eden Prairie High,. and Holy Family Catholic a private school in Minnesota. He is is currently in the US Army and he’s entering into flight school. So he’s doing great things for our country down there in Texas and going to Alabama.” Cetacean Nation offers a Fins Up to that, and a thanks for his service. Allie continued “It was pond hockey for days, all the time. Just go outside and play and shoot, you learn a lot. I love goaltending because of him, and I really study goaltending because you can learn how to pick apart goalies. If you know how the goalies like to play, It’s the biggest weapon. If you know a goalies weakness or how they move, you can use it against them, Yeah, I really try to watch a lot of goaltending, it’s definitely helped my game.”

Allie played several sports other than hockey, and has some definite opinions on the benefits of being a multi sport athlete. And also, the potential problem with just playing hockey! She explained:

“I played every sport. I think a huge problem with hockey culture nowadays is specialization at a young age. It’s so detrimental to the growth and development of these athletes. I played softball, soccer, a lot of soccer! I played lacrosse in high school as a dual sport athlete, lacrosse and hockey. We had summers off at home so that was like everything on the lake. Doing water sports, just being a kid, not really thinking about hockey during the summertime. Whereas now it’s all year around, constant. So yeah, I loved all sports tennis volleyball you name it. And we’ll, if you think about it, my fun fact for parents is that hockey is the only sport where you don’t run backwards. So your hips and your hip flexors develop a certain way in hockey. And over time, you can really see some problems if you’re not working those muscles in all the ways other sports offer. So I think it is really important as the kids grow up to go play other sports, that’s what I say. If you think about the major sports, softball baseball, football, soccer, all involve moving backwards. But skating backwards is more lateral than backwards like those sports. You really have to be a student of the game and I think I’m kind of going down a rabbit hole here, but with technology these days I kind of wish the kids instead of Tick Tocking, would use it to study video. Watch hockey, pick it apart, and learn from it. It’s the best way to learn, just through video, being a student. So I myself try to do my due diligence, and hope that it translates onto the ice.”

Allie had a great career at Eden Prairie, where she led her team to a 55-15-3 record, including a Minnesota State Championship, scoring 100 goals and registering 71 assists her the Eagles. She was an All-Star, All-Confrence performer, but that Championship was really special. Allie reminisced:

“We won High School States, and that was probably the best feeling. it’s hard to fathom if you’re not from Minnesota. The High School Tournament, between both the boys and the girls, it’s a huge deal. That year we had 12 seniors, and of those 12, I think 10 of them went to D1 schools. It was just a great team, it was the best year of my high school career. My freshman year I got to play a lot. I had moved from northern Minnesota to the city going into high school, that was a big adjustment especially going onto the varsity team. But hockey is and was always my thing, and also how I relate to people and make friends, so that was an easy transition and winning states was awesome.” Allie had an early Whale connection in Minnesota, in the person of one of her club hockey teammates, our #9 Kaycie Anderson. This is the interesting story Allie told us:

 “Kaycie was the one who helped recruit me to the Whale! We are friends and had kind of been talking about it, and the opportunity arose for me to come up and practice and get a couple of games in on PTO.Hockey is my full-time job in Nashville, so I didn’t think that I could leave but it’s worked out. I can fly up for these games and get practice in with the team,and still feel part of the team to finish the season out. So yeah, Kaycie and I grew up playing on a summer select team BITD that had the random name The Orange Crush. We actually had a few girls from the team commit to Syracuse. I don’t know if it was a coincidence (with Syracuse’s nickname being The Orange) or not but...

So obviously, Cetacean Nation was curious about how Allie came to wear the Syracuse “S” on her jersey. Allie explained that, and gave us some insight into her years up in Onondaga County, NY. She explained:

“My cousin Christina was a year older than me, and she committed to Syracuse.And they wanted us to go together, so we were kind of a package deal. And since our dads are brothers obviously, they wanted to drive out together on road trips. We had had big tailgate times, and it was fun situation. I looked at the Minnesota scores and some other eastern schools but I wanted to play with my cousin. Unfortunately she transferred, but I stayed and found my home at ‘ Cuse. I had a lot of other offers and looks from schools but I’m happy with my decision I have a great education from there and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It was some of the best four years of my life. Coach Flanagan was one of the best collegiate coaches in NCAA history, he was awesome I loved those girls and I actually just came back for the first time in five years for a reunion. And boy, was it great! But yeah,the LaCombes, Christi and Allie. We played really well together, we were always linemates and teammates, so it kind of worked out well. We played at EP together, and her brother, Jackson, just got drafted first round by the Anaheim Ducks. He’s playing for the Gophers at University of Minnesota right now. Big hockey family!”

Allie received her Bachelor of Science in Sports Management, and had a great career on the ice at Syracuse. She played solid, consistent, relentless hockey even when the team experienced some ups and downs. She scored twenty-seven goals and added twenty-one assists for the Orange, but when Allie thought about her favorite moment at Syracuse, one particular game stands out. And she told us why:

“Well obviously times with your teammates like, bus drives, hotel stays, and just being with the girls is special. But my favorite memory of all time was when my Dad drove out, and I get emotional when I talk about this, when he drove by himself in a snowstorm from Minnesota to Syracuse. Eighteen hours for my senior night, and he had just arrived at the rink. He got there in time, and I scored a goal, and he was right on the glass! And I just went up to him and celebrated. Both of us kind of choked up, but it was just a really great moment, father and daughter, and someone got a picture of it. It was the best still photo, just pure happiness. I will never forget that, it was definitely my favorite moment. Dad is a trooper, he’s awesome. He’s quite the hockey dad.” Cetacean Nation agrees, and Allie was kind enough to send us the photo of that monument that she referenced. You saw it at the top of this interview..

Cetacean Nation had discovered that Allie likes to travel, which is pretty significant when you are hockey-commuting between Nashville and Danbury. We asked Allie about that, and she explained how that has always been a part of her life:

“I think it was something that just developed, I moved a lot as a kid. I went to France when I was 15 by myself, to visit my aunt and spoke French. And probably when I went to Vienna after Syracuse and played a full year there, so I got to live in Vienna? I taught myself German, so I could babysit kids and make money while playing there. The kids knew English better than I knew German :) Plus being over there, you’re allowed to travel on off weekends, so I got to Prague, Sweden, Italy and all these amazing countries through hockey. And, that led me to go to Kazakhstan to play last season. When that offer came, I had to Google where Kazakhstan was on the map! I was like: Wow, that’s really far away! But they play in the EWHL, which is the European Women’s Hockey League, the same league as Vienna plays in. So they fly to Europe and you meet him there, and play in tournaments. I did get to go to Kazakhstan three times, and I was incredible. The hospitality, the people, the food and the culture, I’ll never ever forget it. It was nothing like anything I’ve ever experienced. And now we also travel for girls hockey twice a month so I feel like I’m always going on road trips. I love flying, I love traveling. I’ve been all around the world and back, and it’s been through hockey, which is the best part about it!”

So after those adventures overseas, how did it occur that Allie came back to the states to continue her career in various roles in hockey? She explained:

“The hardest part about me continuing to play overseas, is that I had to leave my job for weeks at a time with Kazakhstan. So two or three weeks I’d be gone, and with coaching the girls and taking over the rink, it was too much. Playing is one thing, but for me my passion was coaching and giving back to the kids. So I kind of just wasn’t able to make it out there. They do have some upcoming national team tournaments and things like that, but I have a really good relationship with those coaches and I said: You know what? I just can’t do all the travel but I’m going to try to stay here in the states and do a couple of games. And they totally understood, so that was just a personal decision to put the girls first and to stay in coaching and not leave in the middle of the season. That’s my career and I’m just really lucky to be able to still play hockey. Hockey is a passion in this league, the NWHL, and I’m so grateful for it all that, I can't put it into words"

One specific area of interest for Cetacean Nation is Allie’s skill in the face-off circle. As a senior at Syracuse, she led the nation in face-off win percentage. And as of this interview, she has won twelve of fourteen draws for the Whale. Allie spoke about her dominance on the dot, saying:

“Honestly, if I can play hockey just to take face-offs I would do it and not have to do anything once that’s done! Now I’m kidding, but I love to take face-offs. I don’t know what it is. I just study the referees hands, placement of the stick, the opposition in the circle. I do play center,and now this is me just being honest, I’m not that great a defensive center. I was really good at taking the draw, so coaches in college would say: Take the draw and then go play wing! So I did, but now that I’m older, I think the game better than I did back then. I can definitely play center on D, but I did play a lot of center and took a lot of face-offs. it’s a skill I never really lost, kind of like riding a bike I guess. But skating at 100%? Now my lungs will come back eventually, but I’ll never lose that face-off ability. Allie also noted, “Unless you have someone else to work with, you can’t really practice. It is just hand eye coordination, it’s just timing and being quick. It’s quickness, it’s all about speed, and a little bit of strength too. The higher level you play, the more you have to study it, but it’s all just fast hands I guess.”

Allie ihas skated for the Pod wearing the #13, and we asked her about the evolution of her numbers over the years, as we are wont to do. She replied:

“Well that one (#13) was given to me and the jersey was too small. I have always been number nine, so nine is my number, but that’s Kaycie‘s number. But number nine on the ice, yeah that’s my favorite number. Gordie Howe is the reason why I picked that one. My dad and I were always watching hockey and he was going to pick that number, and I’m not too particular about it but if I could choose nine I would. I’ve worn 27,37, 20, don’t know why that’s just how it came about. I preferred to have nine but if I can’t, just give me whatever you have and we go from there.”

Allie concluded our chat with some thoughts on the Pod: “I’m still pretty new, and still working my way into the line-up, finishing up the season with a great group of girls I’m happy to be here. With the single game illumination and playoffs it’s really anybody’s game, you just have to show up and be the better team that night. It’s an exciting structure and it should get everyone fired up to play the best hockey possible for those 60 minutes. I’ve not played at home yet, and I’m excited to get the home ice next game. I’m also excited to play against Minnesota back at home in Minnesota, because everyone will be at the game and I’m excited to play against those girls. But I know we’re gonna have a big crowd him to go home to, and I can’t wait. I’ve been skating every day and training can’t wait to get back on the ice with the girls. So right now it’s just take care of your body, get the rest, keep training, keep skating and work on those skills. I work with some coaches in Nashville on and off the ice so, fortunately I have access to ice whenever I want it. No excuses not to come in ready!" Allie added one more note for the fans, saying “We would not be able to do this without people supporting the game, and the players in the league, so thanks!

Cetacean Nation thanks Allie as well, for her candid and insightful remarks and content. All the fans of Cetacean Nation are looking forward to seeing our #13 Allie LaCombe contribute to the Pod down the stretch and into our push towards Isobel. Fins Up to that, and some Southern Exposure from Nashville!