By Andy Kent
Naples Daily News
SUNRISE, Fla. – A gray T-shirt and white ball cap worn backwards was the uniform of choice last Wednesday night for Florida Everblades forward Phil Aucoin.
On this night, the 24-year-old younger brother of Keith Aucoin (pictured) was sitting on the other side of the glass at BankAtlantic Center, playing the role of spectator instead of player.
His older brother was on the ice for what turned out to be an entertaining NHL game between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Florida Panthers, won by Carolina in a shootout, 4-3.
For the Aucoins, it was a special moment, made even more special by the brevity of it as Keith Aucoin, who had been called up by Carolina for his first NHL action three days before, was sent back down to the American Hockey League’s Lowell Lock Monsters the very next day.
Aucoin, 27, took with him the memory of recording his first NHL point against the Montreal Canadiens in his first game last Monday in Raleigh, N.C., a 7-3 Hurricanes win, and the memory of being able to share achieving his ultimate dream in person with family.
“It was nice because (Phil) was the only family member to see me play live in the NHL,” said Keith Aucoin, who rejoined the Lock Monsters in time for a string of three games in three nights that began Friday at home with the first of a home-and-home against Hartford. “I hadn’t seen him in a while and it was a good experience. Now I’ve just got to go down, work hard in the AHL, and hopefully I’ll get another chance up here.”
Phil Aucoin made the trip across Alligator Alley with teammate John Ronan, a fellow Massachusetts native, taking advantage of their last day off as part of the ECHL All-Star break.
With Florida being an affiliate of both the Panthers and the Hurricanes, the two managed to score the best seats they could possibly ask for — second row directly behind Carolina’s bench.
After the two teams battled to a 2-2 tie in the first period, with the Hurricanes erasing a 2-0 deficit, Phil and Ronan made a trip to the concession stand and returned just before the start of the second period. Phil had a large tub of popcorn with him, seeming content to fully enjoy his role reversal from a typical night at Germain Arena.
“It was good. I never thought that I’d have a chance to be able to watch him play in the NHL, and being able to actually go to the game and sit where we got to sit was great,” said Phil Aucoin, who had hoped to fly up to Raleigh and join his parents for Keith’s debut, but tickets for all three were hard to come by. He stayed in Florida and his parents bought the NHL’s satellite package and watched both games from their home.
“We didn’t find out until an hour before face-off where our seats were going to be,” Phil said. “We knew they’d be good seats but we didn’t know they’d be right behind the bench. It was good being able to see what the coaches say to the guys and what the guys were talking about, you could hear everything, so it was a good experience.”
Hurricanes head coach Peter Laviolette had Keith Aucoin on the same line as top forwards Erik Cole and Eric Staal. Unfortunately, that line was on the ice for all three Panthers goals, giving Aucoin a plus/minus rating of minus-3 for the night.
But even as he was concentrating on his game and what he needed to do each shift — he was given 10 shifts for what amounted to 7:08 of ice time — he didn’t have any trouble spotting his brother in the crowd. Going without a shift in the third period and overtime, Keith really had a chance to make eye contact with Phil.
“In the third period I saw him up there and I started laughing,” Keith said. “I didn’t know he was that close, so it was pretty funny. He loves the popcorn, so I’m sure he had a couple (tubs).”
And as far as how much seeing his brother in an NHL jersey might motivate Phil and allow him to dream of playing someday at the highest level, the younger Aucoin is keeping things in perspective and keeping his dreams separate from his brother’s.
“The way I look at it is, I don’t think I will play there because he had a shot to play in the American League right out of college,” said Phil, who had 22 points (10 goals, 22 assists) in 32 games heading into Friday night’s home game against South Carolina. “I’m already 24-years-old and I played two games in the American League, but I’m not going to get a two-way (contract).
“Obviously, I think about it, but it’s a long shot, and I’m just satisfied to play professional hockey down here. I’ll live the dream through him.”
Down on the lower concourse outside Carolina’s dressing room after the Panthers game, the two brothers lived the dream together.