‘Long road’ leads Aucoin to AHL Hall of Fame

JustSports Photography/AHL

📝 by Patrick Williams

As soon as Keith Aucoin wrapped up one phone call, he began dialing.

“I called my parents right away,” Aucoin recalled. “Let them know. Let my wife know, the kids know.”

Aucoin had just been told that he was to be enshrined in the AHL Hall of Fame. The Selection Committee had made the long-time offensive dynamo a member of the Class of 2022 alongside Nolan Baumgartner, Dave Creighton and Bill Torrey. Long-time AHL President and CEO Dave Andrews, the sole Class of 2021 inductee, will join them Monday for the enshrinement ceremony at Théâtre Marcellin-Champagnat in Laval.

“That’s a cool call to get,” said Aucoin, who battled his way into the AHL as an undrafted player from NCAA Division III Norwich University. He eventually played parts of 13 AHL seasons and piled up 859 points in 769 games, making stops with the Lowell Lock Monsters, Providence Bruins, Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, Albany River Rats, Hershey Bears, Toronto Marlies and Chicago Wolves.

Aucoin sits seventh all-time in AHL scoring, and his 613 assists place him fifth in league history. He won back-to-back Calder Cup championships with Hershey in 2009 and 2010 and created nightly magic setting up elite sniper Alexandre Giroux. The 2009-10 Bears set AHL records with 60 regular-season wins and 34 home victories. That same season Aucoin’s 106 points won him both the AHL scoring title as well as most valuable player honors. In all, he went to six AHL All-Star Classics, tying a league record, was a three-time First Team All-Star, and a three-time Second Team All-Star.

Those gaudy achievements had quite humble beginnings, however. Coming out of Division III as a 5-foot-8, 185-pound playmaker in an era in which size dominated, he went to training camp in 2001 with the Lowell Lock Monsters, minutes from where he starred at Chelmsford (Mass.) High School.

He managed to make the club and play 30 games, but he spent the majority of his season in the now-defunct United Hockey League.

“Coming from Division III, I knew it was going to be a long road,” Aucoin said. “I knew I could play there. It was a matter of getting there. I remember feeling like I fit in there. I didn’t feel out of place.”

His big break came the next season. Aucoin landed with the Providence Bruins for the 2002-03 campaign and broke loose with 76 points in 78 games. P-Bruins head coach Mike Sullivan took a quick liking to Aucoin’s game and gave him ample power-play time.

“I got the opportunity to play every night,” Aucoin said, “and showcase that I could play at that level. Mike Sullivan put me in a spot where I could succeed.”

But after signing a one-year deal with Anaheim and spending the 2002-03 season in Cincinnati, Aucoin struggled to find an AHL job when, in the fall of 2004, an influx of top NHL prospects headed to the AHL amid the season-long National Hockey League lockout.

Aucoin admits that he considered retirement. A pep talk from his parents put a stop to that idea.

“My parents told me that I wasn’t retiring,” Aucoin said, “that I was going to keep going.”

His 2004-05 season opened in the Central Hockey League before the Bruins came calling again. He went back to Providence, posted 66 points (21 goals, 45 assists) in 72 games, and helped the B’s advance to the Eastern Conference Finals with a team featuring the likes of Patrice Bergeron and Brad Boyes among many others.

Finally he had the attention of NHL clubs.

Aucoin joined the Carolina Hurricanes in 2005-06 and played his first seven NHL games for the Hurricanes, picking up an assist in his NHL debut Jan. 23, 2006. He also put together another excellent campaign with 99 points in Lowell, and the Hurricanes saw fit to include him as a black ace for their Stanley Cup run that spring.

Despite being undersized, he proved that he could go to all areas of the ice, absorb contact, and give some of it back as well.

JustSports Photography/AHL

“The only I way I was going to get the call-up to the NHL was to put up numbers,” Aucoin said. “I went out there every night with a chip on my shoulder to prove that I was ready to get an NHL call-up, and that was my mindset.”

Following that 2006 run, Aucoin received a Stanley Cup ring from the Hurricanes that he gave to his parents.

Aucoin spent two more seasons in the Carolina organization, including a 38-game run in 2007-08, before going to the Washington Capitals as a free agent in July 2008.

That choice changed Aucoin’s career.

“I knew I was going to a great organization that had the history of winning,” Aucoin said, “and I knew that we were going to have a good team. I didn’t know it would be that good. But we were a team that was loaded.

“We were a team that was ready to win. The fans every night expect you to win, and they push you to be great.”

Aucoin could find Alex Giroux with a pass anywhere on the ice. And Giroux’s elite shot rarely missed, lighting up the AHL with 60 goals in 69 games while Aucoin’s 71 assists paced the league. A season later came a 106-point performance for Aucoin along with 50 more goals off Giroux’s stick.

“I always knew where he was going to be,” Aucoin said of his sidekick, “and he was always in the right spot.”

He ended up playing 49 games for the Capitals across four seasons before winding down his North American career and making NHL stops with the New York Islanders and St. Louis Blues. He played one season in Switzerland and won three championships in Germany before retiring in 2018.

Last summer Aucoin returned to the AHL world as a pro scout for the Colorado Avalanche, based out of Massachusetts. His new portfolio includes much of the East Coast. And much like his playing career, Aucoin can still see the ice from his new perch, and it is a place where everything immediately makes sense to him.

“I really like it,” Aucoin said. “I don’t know how to do anything else.

“It’s very easy for me to watch a game and see what I’m looking at.”