After participating in his first NHL fight last night against veteran Scott Hartnell, 21-year-old blue-liner Keith Aulie is growing into quite the fan favorite in Toronto.
Aulie took a decisive win over Hartnell in the Leafs 3-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers last night, and fans have already dubbed the youngster with nicknames such as “Muhammad Aulie” and “Prince Aulie Ababwa”. The fight proved that Aulie can answer the bell for his team, but his skill goes far beyond dropping the gloves.
Acquired by the Leafs in last year’s blockbuster trade with the Calgary Flames, he came over in good company with the now captain, Dion Phaneuf. The fourth round draft pick has the size, defensive awareness and skating ability to be a full-time defenseman on the Leafs squad. He’s similar to Luke Schenn in regards of his size, physicality, shut-down ability and spurts of offensive potential showcased in his junior career.
Aulie was a Brandon Wheat Kings lifer who played with the WHL team for four seasons. His last two were the most successful; in 2007-2008 he racked up 5 goals, 12 assists, 17 points and 82 penalty minutes, before posting a career-high 6 goals, 27 assists, 33 points and 81 penalty minutes in 2008-2009.
Aulie also played for Team Canada in the 2009 World Junior Championships, where he was paired with Buffalo Sabres rear-guard Tyler Myers. What a scary pairing that is! Nicknamed “The Twin Towers”, the two are both at least 6’5”, and their chemistry together was instrumental in helping Canada to the gold medal.
His professional career began with the Abbotsford Heat in 2009 where he played 43 games before heading to the Toronto Marlies to finish the year off. This season, he spent 36 games with the Marlies, and his keen defensive prowess was enough to earn him a spot with the Leafs, where he has now played 23 games.
Although Aulie is pointless in that stint, his play is still very noticeable on the ice and his mistake-free hockey has allowed him to fit right in on the Leafs young defensive squad.
At 6’5″, 217 pounds, Aulie fits the bill for Brian Burke’s style of player. A gritty, hard-nosed physical body that will not let an opponent crowd the crease or get away with working in the danger areas of the defensive zone. Before Francois Beauchemin was traded back to the Anaheim Ducks, many an analyst commented that Aulie could easily fill his position and become a counted on d-man.
Judging by the play as of late, that couldn’t be more correct. Aulie is just another one of those young up-and-coming players that makes the team exciting to watch, and Leaf fans should be in for a treat should Aulie continue to play the way he has.
Sidenote: In December 2006, Keith’s father, Bill Aulie, was clearing snow off a frozen dugout at the family farm in Saskatchewan to prepare for an outdoor shinny game on New Year’s Day. The ice could not support the weight of the tractor, and he fell through. Aulie was able to pull his father out of the water and get him to safety, and he was honoured by the Red Cross for saving his father’s life. Off the ice, Aulie is also known as quite the intelligent body as he captured the WHL’s Top Scholastic Player award in 2007.
To view last night’s fight between Aulie and Scott Hartnell, visit the link below.