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PLYMOUTH — He’s without a doubt the biggest Joonas Korpisalo fan in all of Richland County.
Maybe only a passionate hockey fan — in this case, Plymouth junior Caiden Allen — would know that Korpisalo is a goalie for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Then again, Allen isn’t just a fan, he’s also a hockey player.
In fact, it might be his best sport, which is saying something, for two reasons:
One, the only ice you’ll find in Plymouth is at the bottom of a drinking glass or being cursed on the roadways in the winter.
Two, Allen has been one of the best sprinters in north central Ohio this spring, winning the 100 meters at the Shelby Invitational, the Firelands Conference meet and again in the Division III district finals last week at Colonel Crawford High School.
“Hockey is his first love,” Plymouth track coach Matt Anderson said. “We’ve all been impressed by the way he transfers his speed from one sport to the other — football to hockey to track. The speed just carries over in everything.
“He loves hockey. He does track and football to keep busy. He loves track, too, but hockey is his No. 1 thing.”
Allen was hooked from the time his mom, Danell, encouraged him to attend a Blue Jackets game with his uncle Mark. That was nine years ago.
“I loved everything about it, from the way they passed the puck to the way they shot the puck,” Allen said. “I had never seen (hockey) before. I thought it was the coolest thing ever.”
Allen taught himself how to skate in no time.
“My grandmother had this old pair of rollerblades,” he said, “so anytime I would go over there, I’d steal them real quick and go outside and mess around on them.”
Allen said it took him “about three minutes” to feel comfortable on skates. His dad, Enrico, took him to the Alice Noble Ice Arena in Wooster for open skate sessions, and before long he was playing hockey on a club team at the facility.
It’s a good thing he has such a supportive family because hockey required a big commitment on more than just his part. Before he got his driver’s license, somebody would have to drive him to Wooster three times a week — twice for practice, with a game on either Friday or Sunday.
“Mostly it was my dad,” Allen said. “He would always take me to practice and he’d be the only one in the stands. All of the other parents were sitting in the ‘warm’ room.”
Allen just finished his sixth year with his club team, playing winger and wearing a No. 70 jersey, just like Korpisalo. Allen’s Instagram handle is caiden_allen_70. And the first thing listed under his name in his IG profile is: Wooster hockey #70.
So this is serious business to him and, if it could lead to a college scholarship in the sport, all the better.
“That,” he said, “would be amazing.”
He might feel most at home on the ice, but Plymouth football coach Mark Genders raves about Allen’s ability to take the top off defenses as a wide receiver and he has spent all spring charging out of the blocks toward what he hopes is a berth in the state track meet next week in Columbus.
Call it the Allen Hat Trick. He might very well have three options when it comes to pursuing a sport in college.
“He’s Mr. Touchdown, man,” Genders said. “His role keeps expanding. We’re going to be a dangerous (offense) this year, and he’s a big piece of that. I don’t know how many teams are going to be able to handle him one on one. We’ve just got to find a guy to get the ball to him. He’s so explosive. We like the potential of our quarterbacks to get the ball downfield to him.”
Allen burst onto the scene as a freshman, catching three passes in a win over South Central. All of them went for touchdowns.
The first impression Allen made on Genders was at a Norwalk High School 7-on-7 event. He spent most of the day with the junior varsity, but after the JVs finished up the coaching staff brought him over for the final few series with the varsity.
“He was up against a senior defensive back who wanted to play college ball,” Genders said. “He went over the kid who was blanketing him and scored. We all looked at each other. ‘Man, we’ve got something here.’
“We’re juiced about (the 2022) season. He’s going to be a big problem. Everybody in our conference (the Firelands) knows that. It’s just our job to get him the rock and it’s my job to find someone to get him the rock.”
Anderson knew long before Allen became a track star that he would be something special.
“I’ve known him since birth,” he said. “He was a little kid doing backflips like they were nothing off the diving board and into my parents’ pool.”
Anderson and Allen’s mom, Danell, a music teacher in the Plymouth-Shiloh school district, are cousins. One of Allen’s uncles is Danell’s brother, Todd Smart, the only individual state champion in Plymouth history, He won the 300 hurdles in 1991 and was a two-time state runner-up in the 110s. Another uncle, Sean Robbins, was a five-time NCAA champion and a 10-time All-American for Ashland University’s track program.
“Caiden has always had a large contingent following him,” Anderson said. “It helps that his mom is one of five siblings. He has a lot of aunts and uncles and cousins at everything he does. Our family has always been very close.
“Whatever the kids want to do (Allen has an older sister, Arianna, and a younger sister, Brielle), Danell and Rico always made sure they had the opportunity to do it. I know that Caiden and his sisters know how lucky they are.”
Allen certainly isn’t lacking in role models, from his parents to his high-achieving uncles. A two-time Olympic alternate in the long jump, Robbins is now a personal trainer in Akron.
Allen tries to get together with him at least once a month.
“He’s told me to just relax and not worry about what everyone else is doing,” Allen said. “Just run my own race.”
He didn’t do that this season in the Forest Pruner Invitational at Crestview. Ever since he finished seventh that night in the 100 — without being sufficiently warmed up since he was high-jumping at the same time — Allen has been on a mission of atonement.
“He didn’t have the race he wanted that night,” Anderson said, “and from that point he’s been very determined to make every race count and try to have his best race every time out.”
So where does that leave Allen heading into the fall?
Even if he doesn’t catch many passes in Gender’s run-dominant offense, opposing football teams must know where he is all the time, making him a valuable decoy.
But Genders has bigger plans than that for him. He tried to get him to a combine in Cincinnati earlier this year, to get him a “star” rating on the recruiting services, but Allen had other commitments.
“I got his name out there and I want him to go to some football camps, too,” Genders said. “Hockey, I don’t know how many opportunities there are. I don’t know that world. But in all of my 30-some years in coaching, where I started in Bellbrook, I coached a couple of Ohio State Buckeyes (most notably, linebacker Austin Spitler.)
“If I sent him to a combine, he’d tear it up. He’s got good size (6-2), he’s got speed (his best 100 this season is an 11.1), his vertical leap is unbelievable. He’s got all the intangibles. They don’t necessarily care how many touchdowns he scores in a D7 game. They want to see his hands, his speed, strength, all of those things. He checks all of the (Division I) boxes, man.
“He’s a good kid, good student, the whole deal.”
This article originally appeared on Mansfield News Journal: Blade runner: Plymouth's Caiden Allen even more at home on ice