Growing up in the heart of Gopher hockey country, Yale sophomore and Armstrong youth hockey product Tommy Fallen was thrilled to get the chance to play Minnesota in the opening round of the NCAA tournament this year.
“Thrilled” would be an understatement when that game ended with Yale prevailing in overtime to stun not only the Gophers, but quite a few friends back home.
“A lot of phone calls and text messages,” says Fallen, who helped lead the Bulldogs to their first-ever NCAA National Championship. “Most people were really happy for me but many were pretty upset that we ended the Gophers’ season.”
With the Gophers and Minnesota State Mavericks out early and St. Cloud State’s first-ever Frozen Four run coming up short, Minnesotans could still be proud to root for Fallen, who could be considered a poster boy of Minnesota Hockey’s community-based model.
Fallen, a smooth-skating, puck-moving defenseman, grew up playing in the Armstrong Youth Hockey Association (now the Armstrong Cooper Youth Hockey Association) before jumping up to the Robbinsdale Armstrong High School program, where he scored 61 points in 78 games before graduating.
Instead of opting for a larger youth association or enrolling in a different high school, he decided to stick with his hometown and school.
“Really what it came down to was that I was playing with the same guys for 10 years,” says Fallen. “I just wanted to continue to do that. I wanted to continue to go to school with my friends and continue playing hockey with them.”
He wasn’t worried about a lack of exposure or development opportunities.
“I believed that truly the best players will get noticed no matter where they’re playing,” says Fallen, who scored seven goals and added 16 assists to lead all Yale defensemen with 23 points this season. “Armstrong will always be my home.”
To help with exposure and experience, Fallen participated in the Minnesota Hockey Advanced 17 Festival, where he survived two rounds of cuts and advanced all the way to the Final 54. These festivals are designed to identify the best players in the state while providing them the opportunity to play against a higher level of competition. In many cases like Fallen's, it can provide a player with the confidence that he or she can thrive with and against the best.
“It showed what I could do against the top players in the district and in the section,” says Fallen, who also posted 20 points as a freshman last season. “I found myself being able to compete against these top-end guys.”
Fallen also played lacrosse as a youth and into his high school years, along with some occasional baseball and other sports at the park near his house. He is a firm believer that young kids should play multiple sports to develop physically and socially while keeping your hockey passion fresh and exciting.
“If you go outside of hockey, you meet new people, broaden your horizons and see the different lives outside of the hockey world,” says Fallen.
Even with a national championship in hand, Fallen stays grounded. He knows playing hockey for Yale has been a tremendous experience, but the education is just as important to him.
“Hockey can go on forever or it can come up short," says Fallen, a political science major. "The odds of continuing to play hockey for years after college or years after high school – it’s quite limited. I wouldn’t settle for a school that didn’t have excellent academics. I always wanted to have something to fall back on whenever hockey ran out.”
Beating the Gophers and winning an NCAA title is still a daze for the defenseman. He’s very proud of his roots and hopes his team’s success will lure more from his home state.
“Being from Minnesota is so special to me. It’s the State of Hockey,” says Fallen. “I hope this puts Yale hockey on the map and maybe gets more recruits and people interested in playing hockey here.”
For as long as Fallen is a Yale Bulldog, Minnesotans will have an interest in at least one player there.