Thursday, August 6, 2009

Aulin on comeback trail

Daily News Sports Editor
At the age of 27, Jared Aulin has rekindled a love affair and is on the comeback trail.
Aulin, a former captain of the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers, hasn’t played a full season of professional hockey since 2005-06. But in a little more than a month he’ll be going to training camp with the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets.
“Three years without playing pro and one year of playing university hockey . . . I fell in love with the game again,” Aulin said Thursday.
Aulin, who played four seasons with the Blazers, was a second-round pick by the Colorado Avalanche in the NHL’s 2000 entry draft. Aulin later was traded to the Los Angeles Kings and it was in their training camp, in September 2003, that his problems really began.
That fall, Aulin injured his left shoulder, an injury that would drive him from the game after a 13-game stint with the AHL’s Springfield Falcons in 2006-07.
Two years earlier, Los Angeles scout Ace Bailey had been killed in one of the 9/11 hijackings. That is something that had stayed with Aulin.
In hindsight, Aulin feels those things took a real toll on him and that he badly needed a mental break.
“The tough times I went through with the shoulder injury and Ace Bailey passing away in L.A. — he was the guy who scouted me to get traded there . . . it was good for me to get a mental break and get a taste of real life,” Aulin said.
It wasn’t easy walking away from the game that had meant so much to him, especially when he felt there still was so much to accomplish.
“It was tough,” Aulin stated. “But I just felt like things weren’t working out for me at the time that I decided to move in another direction.
“I didn’t want to wait until I was 30 and hope for an opportunity and still not get one and then go to school. So I decided that school was my best bet.”
Thus, Aulin went home and enrolled at the U of Calgary, where he found his way back to hockey, playing 16 games with the Dinos in 2007-08.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said of his stint with the Dinos, during which he put up 34 points. “There were lots of ex-Blazers players there so it was good to be reunited with a lot of those guys and play with guys who ended up in Kamloops after me. I was allowed to be a creative hockey player again and had a lot of fun doing it.”
He also got to play on a line with Ryan Annesley, a former teammate in Kamloops who is a good friend. But because Aulin was late to the university game, he only had one year of eligibility. When that season ended, well, he thought that was it.
So . . . it was back to real life.
He was bartending and going to school, but he still had the itch. So he decided to see what could be done about his left shoulder. He ended up working with Dr. Chad Moreau, a brother to Edmonton Oilers forward Ethan Moreau.
“He did a lot of active release therapy on me,” Aulin explained. “He’s not a small guy so his big hands and stuff wrenching my shoulder around helped break up the scar tissue and get a lot of the mobility back.”
And now?
“I feel great,” said Aulin, who will be taking part in the Blazers’ alumni weekend that starts today at Sun Peaks. “I got my shoulder fixed up and I’ve been training hard ever since.”
He also has heard a lot of encouraging words from friends who know how much this means to him.
“When I told people that I’d been training hard and wanted to make a comeback, they all said they were happy to hear it,” Aulin said. “Ryan always told me to continue playing. It made it a lot easier to make a decision when I had so many people in my corner and so many believers.”
Still, it wasn’t as easy as making a phone call . . .
Aulin had an agent send faxes to all NHL teams and follow that up with phone calls. He admits he didn’t expect to hear from anyone and was, in fact, prepared to check out the European market.
Which is when the Columbus Blue Jackets called.
Don Boyd, their director of hockey operations and player personnel, remembered Aulin and convinced general manager Scott Howson that signing him was worth the gamble.
“I was ecstatic,” Aulin said, adding that he is a different person than he was during his first go-round.
“I’m really confident right now and working really hard,” he said. “With age comes maturity and discipline . . . it’s been a great summer.”
Aulin has spent much of the summer skating “with some pro guys” and “shooting at some NHL” goaltenders.
“I’ve been trying to get on the ice as much as I can because I think that’s the biggest thing,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’ve lost any skill, that’s for sure.”
He also admitted to feeling a touch of desperation because, as he put it, not many “guys can say they’ve had a second chance.”
“I’ve always felt like I’ve had something to prove at the highest level and I just haven’t done that yet,” he said. “If I train hard and put myself in a situation where the opportunity is there, I can make the best of it.
“It just seemed like it wasn’t meant to be at that time. Now I’m more mature and I’ve got no excuses and I’m grateful . . .”
And if things don’t work out? Will he be able to walk away knowing that he won’t be coming back?
“Yeah . . . but I don’t think it’s going to come to that,” he said. “I’m confident that things will be fine. I don’t think I would put myself in this position to make a comeback if I didn’t think I could.”

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