ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – When you think of former ECHL players who’ve gone on to play in the National Hockey League, Keith Aucoin’s probably isn’t one of the first names you come up with.
The 33-year-old played in just one game with the Florida Everblades in the 2001-02 season, but has gone on to have a successful career since, emerging as one of the best players in the history of the American Hockey League. He also earned a Stanley Cup ring with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 and was recently re-called to the Washington Capitals for the first time this season.
Before the 2012 AHL All-Star Game at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, ECHL.com caught up with Aucoin in the locker room, and here’s how the conversation went:
Mike Ashmore, ECHL.com: After playing at Norwich University, you split your first pro season between the UHL, ECHL and AHL in 2001-02. What do you remember about that first year?
Keith Aucoin: "It was a learning experience, I think. It was one of those years where you kind of knew it was going to be a grind, so just getting called up to the AHL that year was pretty good. The All-Star break came and they wanted me to keep playing, so they sent me down to Florida and I played two games there. It was a learning experience, it showed me what it took to get to the next level and stay there."
ECHL.com: Do you remember anything specific about your time in Florida? The stats have you down for one game, you say two…
Aucoin: "It was a long time ago now, but it was a really nice rink, I remember that. Nice locker room. The coaching staff was really good to me. I went to the beach as much as I could, that’s one thing I definitely do remember."
ECHL.com: You finally got to make your NHL debut with the Hurricanes during the 2005-06 season. What was it like to experience that after having spent four full seasons in the minors?
Aucoin: "It was a pretty crazy day, I was in Connecticut and got the call to go up. It was against Montreal, and I got my first assist. It was one of those days you never forget."
ECHL.com: That was a pretty good year to get called up, too. Carolina won the Cup, you got a ring…what was it like being a part of that team?
Aucoin: "It worked out to be a really good year. Obviously, you want to play in the playoffs, but to be there and just have the experience of seeing what it takes to win like that, you just learn from the guys. Those guys treated us like we were a part of the team, and it was a fun experience."
ECHL.com: I think your AHL numbers and accolades speak for themselves — two Calder Cups, a league MVP — but I’m sure you’d like to be back in the NHL. It’s somewhat of a trade-off where you get to play a lot at this level compared to the NHL, where you’d likely be worked into a smaller role, but I think a lot of people would look at your AHL numbers and wonder why you haven’t received more of a look…is it still enjoyable to do this at this level for you?
Aucoin: "It’s always fun no matter what. Any time you’re recognized for what you do on the ice, it’s pretty special. You enjoy it. You’re here with the guys you go against all year, and I’m enjoying it with my teammates from Hershey. I always enjoy coming and it’s always a great experience. At my age, I could use the time off. But it’s always fun."
ECHL.com: Compare getting to play for and win the Calder Cup to getting to hoist the Stanley Cup…
Aucoin: "It was obviously a little different I think, because with the Calder Cup you’re a bigger part of the team and you’re there most of the year. You battled throughout the schedule with your teammates. Obviously, being a part of the Stanley Cup year was pretty special, but I think being on a team that you played with all year and you’re actually part of the team and you helped and scored and did what it took to win, it’s pretty special."