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Denny Allen retires as Olympic Center GM

May 4, 2018
By ANDY FLYNN - Editor (aflynn@lakeplacidnews.com) , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - The Allens have left the building.

After 50 years of working at Lake Placid's Olympic arenas, there will be no more Mr. Allen in charge.

Olympic Center General Manager Denny Allen, 63, retired last week from the state Olympic Regional Development Authority. Sitting in the Herb Brooks Arena's 1980 Rink on Friday, April 20, a week before his last day on the job, Allen reflected on his years of service and his family's contributions to the community.

Article Photos

Olympic Center General Manager Denny Allen poses in the Herb Brooks Arena on Friday, April 20, a week before his retirement.
(News photo — Andy Flynn)

"I'm healthy, my family's healthy, and it seems like a good time (to retire)," he said. "I'll take advantage of some free time to do some things in this community that I like to do: hiking and skiing and skating, that type of stuff."

Allen grew up in Lake Placid, a 1972 Lake Placid High School graduate and son of Bob and Gloria Allen. Gloria was a nursing professional, working at the Lake Placid General Hospital and Placid Memorial Hospital and volunteering her nursing services at major sporting events. Bob worked for the town of North Elba for 25 years and managed the Olympic Arena with the North Elba Park District from 1967 until his retirement in 1981.

The transition of Allens at the Olympic Center was seamless. When Bob retired, Denny had already been working there as director of operations for the Park District and was lucky enough to be hired by ORDA when the state took over management of the Olympic venues from the town in 1982. Not every arena employee was hired by the state.

Denny was uniquely qualified to help ORDA and the community of Lake Placid build their post-Olympic future after the 1980 games. Not only was he a local boy, but sports venue management was in his blood.

Early on, Robert Dennis Allen would not take his father's first name.

"My mother decided," he said.

Gloria's father's name was Dennis, and her son would become Dennis as well, or Denny for short.

Denny played sports in high school, notably hockey and was a member of the Blue Bombers championship hockey team in 1970, coached by Ray Pratt. He was popular, being voted king of the LPHS Winter Carnival with queen Karen Preston in February 1972. And at graduation, he received the first Bud Colby Memorial Trophy for outstanding contributions to all sports.

Graduating in 1977 from St. Lawrence University with a bachelor's degree in sociology, Denny decided to return home to Lake Placid. He tried a few things before ORDA hired him in 1982. He worked for Roger P. Kennedy General Contracting and did some carpentry work at the new federal prison in Ray Brook, which was used as the Olympic Village for athletes during the 1980 Winter Olympics.

In August 1978, his old hockey coach, Ray Pratt, was the sports director for the Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee and hired him in the events department as the administrative assistant for the ice sports: ice hockey, figure skating, bobsledding, speedskating and luge.

"That was when I first really got a good taste of what it's like to be in the event business, the planning and the thought that has to go into putting on events," Denny said.

During the 1980 Winter Olympics, Denny was the manager of the speedskating oval. After the Olympics, he worked briefly at the federal prison as a prison guard, "and decided that wasn't quite my forte," he said.

By 1981, he was at the Olympic Center working for the North Elba Park District and then ORDA in 1982, first as the director of operations, then director of events, and finally general manager for the past 24 years.

"I think I was one of the first ORDA employees, certainly from this venue," Denny said.

Working at the Olympic Center, he followed in the footsteps of his father. Bob Allen was considered by many to be the "godfather" of U.S. women's ice hockey. After two years of managing the SLU hockey arena in Canton, he became the event coordinator for ORDA from 1983 to 1989. He was also president of the New York State Amateur Hockey Association, secretary, vice president and director emeritus of USA Hockey and chairman of hockey for the 1980 Winter Olympics as part of the Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee. He was chairman of the 1998 U.S. Women's Hockey team, which won a gold medal in Nagano, Japan. And when USA Hockey hands out its annual Women's Player of the Year, it's named for Bob Allen.

Needless to say, Bob Allen was known to cast a big shadow.

"He still does," Denny said.

But Denny has certainly made a name for himself at the Olympic Center.

"I've been fortunate," he said. "We have good relationships with U.S. Figure Skating, USA Hockey, speedskating, and those were relationships that have carried on from my dad to me and this community has certainly benefitted from those relationships."

During his career at ORDA, Denny has been involved in countless national and international events for figure skating, ice hockey and speedskating, plus numerous concerts and conventions. He was also a consultant and field-of-play supervisor, overseeing ice preparations for short-track speedskating and figure skating for the 2002 and 2006 Olympic Winter Games. In his spare time, he has coached and officiated ice hockey and worked closely with the Lake Placid Youth Athletic Association.

In 2016, Denny joined his father and mother as a member of the Lake Placid Hall of Fame.

As the general manager, he was in charge of the speedskating oval, the Olympic Center arenas (1932 and 1980) and the new Lake Placid Conference Center, which opened in 2011.

"It's a pretty demanding job," Allen said. "It's easily six days a week and a lot of times seven days a week. ... There's a lot of activity."

ORDA has not yet named a new Olympic Center GM.

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Q&A with Denny Allen

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LPN: What do you see as your biggest accomplishments at ORDA?

Allen: I think probably one of the bigger ones would be being involved with the conference center, the construction of that, being involved with the design. And the improvements we are making here now. We're doing a lot of upgrades and the refrigeration system. We've got plans to do some new lighting. Just keeping the building active, seeking out different things, and trying to bring people into the community.

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LPN: Is it safe to say that the Olympic venues are the center of Lake Placid?

Allen: This building in particular because of the historical significance of the Soviet-U.S. game. We kind of take it for granted, but it's still amazing to stand in that hallway and listen to parents now tell their kids what actually went on here. And to see people come through the door and say, "Wow, this is where that happened." That still gives you a little chill when you hear that. You see or feel their emotion, and it's pretty neat.

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LPN: What have you done in your career that you feel would make your parents proud?

Allen: I think back to the women's Olympic team that won the first gold medal (1998). They used this place as their training base, and we did a great job with it. They are a great group of girls. I think the atmosphere that was here that we created, that they created, so they could train and be successful was something that I think was important to my dad and to my mom. That section of time, that eight months when they were here living in Lake Placid and experiencing Lake Placid, experiencing the people in the community, that was memorable for me.

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LPN: What are some of the biggest challenges of running the Olympic Center?

Allen: The age of the building. A lot of the stuff we're dealing with was built and installed in 1978 and 1979. ... There's the retrofitting. They just don't have parts for that stuff, so we're having to buy new stuff. A perfect example, R22 is a refrigerant called Freon. It's going to be taken out of production by the federal government in 2020. We are Freon-based refrigeration, and now we're switching to a substitute for that. And that means a lot of upgrades have to go into 1978-1979 vintage compressors. The electrical service, we're having to upgrade that because now everything's bigger.

We've got a dedicated staff that keeps this place going just by ingenuity and grit. They take a lot of pride in this, and people see that. People feel that.

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LPN: Do you have any particular memories of your career you'd like to share?

Allen: Certainly the staff. But the fact that thousands of kids have learned to skate here, play hockey here and develop lifelong friendships. That summer skating school has put a lot of kids through there. ... They've learned life lessons there. And they've learned about the sport of figure skating, the sport of hockey, the sport of speedskating. And to be involved in that has been very rewarding to me.

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LPN: Is there anything you've wanted to do but just couldn't for whatever reason?

Allen: I really enjoyed the concert business, the preparation, the planning, the heartache, and everything about it. We've kind of gotten away from it, and I wish that we could have done more. But it's a huge financial risk and undertaking. To be successful, you really have to do more than one or two because some you'll make some money, some you'll lose some money. And it's a tough business. Everything has to be just so right, the band schedule, our schedule. ... I miss that. ... That's a regret for sure.

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LPN: What did you enjoy the most?

Allen: One of the things that I enjoyed the most was getting to see the athlete behind the scenes, see what kind of person they really are, not when they're in the spotlight. That has been very interesting to me and very rewarding to get to meet some of these people and see how genuinely kind they are and how hard working they are. And how they take so much pride in their performance and their abilities and the training that goes into some of these Olympic athletes, the NHL guys. It's impressive.

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LPN: Anyone in particular?

Allen: Scott Hamilton is the epitome of poise, grace, professionalism. The Stars on Ice, he took pride in that show, making sure the people got their money's worth and making sure that his troupe of skaters gave it their best. He's a wonderful human being. If I had to pick one person, it would be him.

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LPN: What kind of a boss is Denny Allen?

Allen: He can be a little hard to deal with at times, but he has a big heart. And that sometimes gets in his way, but I think he does a pretty good job.

 
 

 

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