AP NEWS

For Aucoin, It’s the End of a Very Long Road Through Hockey World

August 27, 2018
For Aucoin, It's the End of a Very Long Road Through Hockey World

Retired professional hockey player Keith Aucoin plays some street hockey with his son Brayden, 6, in front of their Chelmsford home. SUN/JULIA MALAKIE Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

CHELMSFORD -- Despite being one of the top high school hockey players in Massachusetts, Keith Aucoin received no love from Division 1 colleges.

He was told the same thing over and over.

You’re too small.

He never heard from UMass Lowell, located just a couple of slap shots from his Chelmsford home.

For a guy deemed too small to play college hockey at the highest level, Aucoin had the last laugh.

A big laugh.

A giant laugh, even.

The 39-year-old Aucoin has finally retired from hockey, ending a storybook 17-year professional career which saw him play in four countries, on 17 teams and in seven leagues.

Two of the leagues he played in are long defunct.

“That means I’m old. That means I’m really old,” he said, laughing, during an interview at his Chelmsford home earlier this week.

Counting playoff games, Aucoin netted 1,320 points in 1,360 games. He played in 165 National Hockey League games (counting playoffs), wearing the sweaters of the Carolina Hurricanes, Washington Capitals, New York Islanders and St. Louis Blues.

“Looking back it doesn’t feel like 17 years. I was very fortunate to not have a lot of injuries to hold me back,” he said. “But at the same time it went so fast. I feel I can still play, but it took me a lot longer to get ready for games every night. Obviously a lot of it has to do with the family.”

Aucoin and his wife, Maureen, a New Jersey native, have two sons, Brayden, 6, and Nathan, 4. They live in Chelmsford just steps from the Carlisle line.

Aucoin spent the previous four seasons in Europe -- one in Switzerland and the last three in Germany.

He won championships with his Munich EHC team all three seasons he played in Germany’s top league. Early last season, he told team officials the 2017-18 season would be his last.

He then produced a terrific final campaign, scoring 11 goals and 52 assists. His 63 points easily led the league. He was named the MVP of the Deutsche Eishockey League. And when Munich won the title, Aucoin was the first player to skate around with the trophy.

Talk about going out on top.

“I really didn’t expect to have that good of a season,” he admitted. “I really felt (getting older) the most the previous year. I always said I wanted to go out on my own terms. So I’m very fortunate for that to happen.

“The whole team knew it was my last year,” he said, adding that his teammates presented him with a watch before the playoffs. “They made it special for me. I’m not an emotional guy, but that’s the first time it really set in. I had tears in my eyes. But it made it a lot easier winning the last game of my career.”

Aucoin enjoyed his time in Germany. He easily could have signed for another season. But with his boys getting older, he knew it was time to retire. Brayden’s entering first grade in September and Nathan’s starting kindergarten.

Aucoin is looking forward to watching his sons play sports. Yes, they both skate.

Not short on talent

Aucoin helped lead Chelmsford High to the Division 1 state championship his sophomore season (1995) and by his senior year he felt he was one of the state’s top players. Still, he received letters -- not scholarship offers -- from only Boston University and Yale. Both wanted him to go to prep school for a year.

Undaunted, Aucoin took his talents to Division 3 Norwich University. All he did was score 240 points in 116 games and lead the Vermont school to a national title his junior season.

Despite those accomplishments, Aucoin started his pro career with zero fanfare in 2001. He began with the B.C. Icemen in the United Hockey League, a fight-filled league which ceased operation long ago.

He got his big break when Lowell Lock Monsters GM Tom Rowe, who would go on to coach Aucoin in Lowell and Albany, N.Y., finally gave in to a persistent security guard at the Tsongas Center who raved about Aucoin and gave him his big American Hockey League break.

He played well in Lowell.

Aucoin, despite standing 5-foot-8 and weighing 170 pounds, could play.

“I always felt if I had a chance I could play. (But) I never really knew what level I could get to,” he said.

Soon, Aucoin wasn’t just an AHL player -- he was dominating the second-best league in the world. He won two Calder Cup titles with the Hershey Bears, captured one scoring title with 106 points and was named the AHL’s MVP after the 2009-10 season.

His compete level -- not his size -- stood out when Aucoin hit the ice. But he still had doubters.

“It kind of fuels me a little bit,” he said. “I always played with an edge. I always wanted to prove everyone wrong. I never took crap from anybody. I didn’t care who it was. I needed to make a name for myself at every level and I wasn’t going to back down.”

Call of a lifetime

Aucoin played for Lowell during the 2005-06 season. During a stay in Hartford that winter, Rowe told Aucoin the news he had long waited to hear. The Carolina Hurricanes called. He was going to make his NHL debut.

“That’s one memory you’ll never forget, that phone call. It was against the Montreal Canadiens and I hated the Canadiens being a Bruins fan. We ended up winning big (7-3) and I ended up having an assist. I’m not a guy that gets nervous very much, but that was probably the one time I was really nervous,” he said.

Aucoin skated in seven games for Carolina that season. Although he didn’t appear in any playoff games, Aucoin was presented with a ring when the Hurricanes surprised the hockey world by winning the 2006 Stanley Cup.

Aucoin played in the NHL in parts of nine seasons. The most games he played in a single NHL season was 41 with the Islanders during the 2012-12 season.

He notched 17 goals and 32 assists -- and added five assists in the playoffs -- at hockey’s highest level.

“I wish I could have played more (in the NHL). I felt like I could have played more. But no regrets. I gave it all I could,” he said.

Aucoin recently accepted a coaching position. He will coach the ‘B’ team of the Boston Junior Rangers, an 18-under team out of the Breakaway Ice Center in Tewksbury, and assist with the ‘A’ team.

“I feel like I have a lot to give back,” he said.

Follow Barry Scanlon on Twitter@BarryScanlonSun

AP RADIO
Update hourly