An unlikely, but welcome surprise

By Derek Berry

Every hockey season has its share of surprises.

Things you couldn’t possibly expect to happen come to the forefront and
most of the time they reach the light by the all-star break. In fact,
if you asked anyone in Springfield, Illinois if they thought a player
named Greg Rallo would be the top scorer on their team – the NAHL’s
Springfield Jr. Blues – and named to Team West for the NAHL All-Star
Game in St. Louis, they would probably ask, “who?”

Even head coach Craig Heggs was surprised Rallo stepped into the
spotlight so soon, although he admitted that he was not surprised by
Rallo’s ability to score goals.

“He’s one of the hardest working players on the team,” says Heggs, who
is in his first season with the Springfield Jr. Blues. “He just had to
get comfortable playing against big, strong players and he’s done that.”


Rallo’s ascent to stardom in the NAHL has been a rocky one, to say the

Local media, fans and everybody else who could voice a complaint
wondered if a player from the AA hockey ranks could cut it at this

“I caught a lot of heat,’ says Heggs, over his decision to let the
rising star play. “I heard a lot of grumbling from a lot of different

But, coach Heggs stands by his decision and his persistence has paid

The numbers don’t lie.

Rallo has 27 goals and 16 assists, for 43 points at the all-star
break. He is one of the top scorers at the moment in the NAHL.

Heggs believes in the on-the-job-training philosophy and he let Rallo
get right out on the ice. The result has been beyond the coach’s

“His (Rallo’s) breakthrough month was December,” says Heggs. “I didn’t
think this big breakthrough would have happened right now. I knew it
would, but I thought it would be next season.”

If you ask Rallo, however, you wouldn’t consider any of his amazing
performances so far a surprise.

“No, I’m not surprised,” said Rallo, of his radar-like skills around
the net. “I heard all of that stuff (criticism) way in the beginning,
but I don’t take any offense to it.”


Coach Heggs can’t speak enough about his young star, calling him a team
leader by example.

“Greg is a kid who shows up every day and busts his (butt),’ said the
coach, who took over the team a mere five days before the NAHL draft.

“Greg plays with determination. You can lose sight of him because you
know he’s going to be there.”

Rallo brings the young, upstart Blues a steadiness that they truly
need. And being the team player that Rallo is, he would tell you he
needs the team too.

Rallo’s determination and work ethic go with everything he does. The
youngster is a host at an Applebee’s restaurant in Springfield, where he
works every day after practice. He says his routine shifts to weight
training and working out each afternoon, followed by an evening of
relaxation before getting up early in the morning and doing it all again
the next day.

“All of the training I’ve done, with the running, weight lifting and
what not, has helped me to adjust to the speed and change of pace coming
from AA,” says Rallo.

Rallo says he did nothing to alter his game, but simply waited for a
chance to prove himself. In coach Heggs and with the Blues, he found
that chance.

Heggs says Rallo has a quiet confidence, a type of confidence you don’t
see in every player.

“He gets along with everybody and he never talks about his stats,” says
Heggs. “He’s a perfect kid on a team that needs the support because of
the late start we had.”

Heggs says some kids need a bit more attention, to all aspects of their
game and otherwise.

“A lot of coaches, especially when kids are this age, have to watch a
certain core group of players for a number of reasons,” says Heggs.
“Some kids even need more maintenance on the ice too and I can tell you,
Greg does not fall in that category. ”

Rallo can only agree.

“I do lead by example, that’s the way I play,” says Rallo. “I’m not a
talkative person. That’s how I lead.”

Sounds like a Steve Yzerman or Pavel Bure, who happens to be Rallo’s
role model.


If you ask Greg Rallo, the season at hand and how he and his teammates
perform is what really matters most at the moment. Rallo talks about
what he and his teammates need to do to win.

“If we work hard, we can beat any team, says Rallo, referring to
previous wins over the Danville Wings and the Chicago Freeze. “If we
show up, we can play with anybody.”

But, coach Heggs knows as his player continues to make large strides,
more colleges will come knocking.

“I’ll tell you, I’ll be the happiest guy on earth if Greg goes to
college because he will be one of the hardest players to replace,” he
said, referring to colleges that have inquired about Rallo, including
Union College. “But, I know Greg wants to go to college and I want
what’s best for him.”

If he stays?

“If he stays, I’ll also be the happiest man on earth,” says Heggs.

It is true that Rallo aspires to attend college and play college
hockey. Those are certainly great steppingstones for improving one’s
life chances and perhaps having some fun trying to make the NHL some day

Rallo will continue to weigh all of his options.

“College is definitely a goal,” said Rallo. “But, I’m also waiting to
see what other opportunities open up too.”

Hard-working. Determined. Selfless.

“You can’t say that about every kid, but you can say that about Greg
Rallo,” says Heggs.