Comeback trail leads Aulin to Blue Jackets camp

by Lindsay Kramer ||

After regaining an appreciation for the smaller joys of life — say, being able to reach back with his left hand or sleep on his left side again — center Jared Aulin is ready for a much bigger splurge.

Playing in the NHL again would be a real pick-me-up. It may seem like a bit of a long shot now, but bear with Aulin as he feels comfortable enough to dream big again.

"It’s nice to wake up every day and know you are back to normal," said Aulin, 27.

Physically, that means after nearly six years of discomfort, the stiffness in his left shoulder is gone. Hockey-wise? We are about to find out as Aulin gets a tryout shot in the training camp of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Aulin hasn’t played pro since the 2006-07 season, with Springfield. His only NHL tenure came in 17 games with Los Angeles in 2002-03, his rookie year. That was a great overall debut season for him, as he posted 12 goals and 32 assists in 44 games with Manchester.

But in the next preseason he badly injured his left shoulder and triceps in an exhibition game fight. Surgery fixed the immediate damage, but the tightening repair work in his shoulder lingered with him for years.

Aulin’s career stalled big-time. He was traded to the Washington organization and produced 39 points in 65 games for Portland in 2004-05 and the same number in 61 contests for Hershey in 2005-06. He landed in Springfield in 2006-07, and got just 13 games there before that organization let him go.

"I’ll partially take the blame," Aulin said of his decline. "I’m not going to make excuses. It’s stuff I wasn’t doing, I guess. The past couple of years, I started to lose interest. I wasn’t having the fun I was having before."

Aulin decided to pursue the field of kinesiology, and attended the University of Calgary the past two years. He was eligible to play hockey in 2007-08, and came up with 34 points in 20 games.

Last year, he got a taste of real-world work. He tended bar at a popular Calgary establishment, learning how to mix drinks like he used to change lines — on the fly.

"It gave me an appreciation for different jobs and lifestyles," he said. "The drinks that are the norm, those are easy (to make). It was the shots that people ordered all the time that I had to get used to. There are so many different names. I’d get confused."

Aulin got a chance to return to more familiar territory because physical therapy this offseason finally loosened up the scar tissue in his left shoulder and returned it to full mobility. He sent out feelers to NHL clubs, not expecting to hear anything back. The Blue Jackets surprised him with some avid curiosity.

If I didn’t think I had anything left, I wouldn’t put myself in this situation. Realistically, I don’t think I can step into game situations and feel 100 percent comfortable. But I don’t think it will take much time," he said. "It’s definitely a different story. But it’s a very humbling story. I’ve never been a cocky person. But when you are a young player playing in the NHL, then not playing pro anymore … it makes you appreciate every opportunity you have."

Stars build around native son

When the new Texas Stars looked for a flagship player to start their fledgling franchise this year, it landed one with a full understanding of the pioneering spirit of that state.

The Stars conferred history upon forward Landon Wilson, making him its first signing ever. Wilson’s commitment to the cause is apparent. Instead of inking just a one-year AHL deal, he signed up for two.

The fit is a natural. Wilson makes his home in the Dallas area, and is a former Dallas Star himself. And, the Texas Stars are the farm team of Dallas.

"Hopefully, that turns out well for us. It’s a good organization, good people to work with," Wilson said. "I’ve played a lot of hockey. A lot of different towns. This is something new. You are going to have a lot of first-year bumps and hurdles you have to overcome. We might have the worst travel around. Hopefully, we start strong and gain a little fan base as we going along."

The 34-year-old Wilson’s interests aren’t completely altruistic, however. He hasn’t been an AHL regular since 1998-99, when he won a Calder Cup with Providence.

Last season he went 2-6 in 27 games with Dallas and 8-7 in 15 games for Grand Rapids.

Wilson, who has played in 375 NHL games, said that league’s interest in him was non-existent this summer, though Dallas director of scouting and player development Les Jackson was encouraging about him sticking around in the system.

"My thoughts are positive," Wilson said. "I feel fine with (being in the AHL). Some people have a difficult time accepting it. But hockey is hockey. You stay humble in what you do, but you go to work every day and play hard."

And maybe pick up that ultimate Texas souvenir along the way. Wilson’s accent remains clear and relatively neutral, but two more seasons spent year-round in the Lone Star state will test that diction.

"There’s no twang, and there’s no y’all yet," he said. "I’m sure after a couple of years that will happen."

Hennigar hungry for chance with Carolina

Forward Rob Hennigar is a player who tries to keep things in perspective.

For instance, after a strong career with Windsor of the OHL, he had the chance to turn pro. Instead, he went to college and got a degree in kinesiology from the University of New Brunswick.

"You learn quickly that you are a person a lot longer than you are a hockey player," he said.

A hockey player is subject to the whims of the business. A person needs to eat no matter what.

So when Hennigar sat down to order lunch at a Fredericton restaurant last month and then got word from Islanders GM Garth Snow that he had been traded from Bridgeport to the Carolina organization, he knew exactly how to deal with it.

"I think it kind of took away from my appetite. A lot of things go through your head," he recalled. "But I still ate my meal."

Perhaps Hennigar was so calm because his first year pro left him hungry for the type of points production he had throughout juniors and college.

As a senior, Hennigar contributed 15 goals and 43 assists in 27 games at New Brunswick and captured the 2007-08 Canadian Interuniversity Sport player of the year award. But as a rookie for Bridgeport last year, his numbers slid to 3 goals and 10 assists in 34 games. He cranked it up several notches in 38 games with Utah of the ECHL, however, going 15-44.

"It was obviously a little different than I envisioned. At the same time, I learned a lot in my first year. Everyone is a little bit better and a little bit stronger," he said. "I’m kind of new to the whole pro lifestyle. I don’t think it (the trade) is a bad thing at all, give it a shot, hopefully make an impact in Albany. I do feel I can contribute in that league."

Promotion time

The AHL front office has moved another one of its own up the ranks.

The league has promoted Bill Scott to the position of director of hockey operations. Scott, entering his fourth season with the AHL, will continue to assist Rod Pasma, the new executive VP of hockey operations, in management of all aspects of the department.

Scott will also take a more active role in collective bargaining preparation and in assisting several initiatives and events that involve AHL team operations.