A new chapter for Yan Aucoin

The Stingers men’s hockey team adds depth on defence

University sports may be on hiatus this semester, but that doesn’t stop teams from preparing for their next game, whenever that may be.

The Concordia Stingers men’s hockey team has remained active since the end of their last season, and have recruited many players since then. One of those players is defenceman Yan Aucoin, who spent the last five years in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).

Aucoin officially joined the Stingers last May, when the team announced his addition via their Twitter account. Aucoin said his time in the QMJHL was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“My time in the league went really fast,” Aucoin said. “I was really fortunate to live that. I started in the QMJHL at age 16, where I considered myself more of a teenager, and left at age 20, way more mature and capable of facing obstacles of life.”

Coming off a great season with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, Aucoin was rewarded for his efforts, being named the 2019-20 Defensive Player of the Year. The Stingers’ acquisition described this award as a real honour.

“We had an extremely young team [this past season], and as soon as the Titan got me, the message was clear,” Aucoin said. “They wanted me to help the young players, and act as a big brother. I had the chance to play in all situations. We had really good defencemen on the team, and a great goalie.”

Aucoin described himself as a “defensive defenceman.” He said that even at the junior level, he was already reputed for his defensive skills.

“I think my defensive game is my bread and butter,” Aucoin said. “I take pride in blocking opponents’ best players. I also have a good physique, so it helps. I try to include all those aspects in my game. It’s my pride as a hockey player.”

Stingers head coach Marc-André Élément, who had been watching the defenceman for a year, said Aucoin is one of those players who are good on both sides of the ice. He added that the coaching staff always has big expectations with great defencemen like him, as he’ll have a big role on the team as soon as hockey starts back up.

“I’m sure he’ll have success when the season will start,” Élément said. “He’s someone who’s been captain last year in the QMJHL. He’s a leader. The goal is to recruit the right people, and Aucoin is obviously one of them. We’re really happy about his addition. He’ll also bring a good physical aspect to the team, as we added size on defence with him.”

Aucoin will study in Business while playing for the Stingers. He said he was also in contact with other universities, but he liked the connection he had with Élément and one of the assistant coaches, Jean-Philippe Hamel.

“I liked the fact I felt wanted by the team,” Aucoin said. “I thought I could have an impact on the team right from the start. I also already knew many players from the team, so of course it helped to convince me. I had the chance to visit the facilities last year, and I was satisfied.”

For Aucoin, his goal with his new team is simply to give them his best effort, as he said all games will be challenges.

“We want to win, but we’ll go one game at the time,” Aucoin said. “I don’t want to give myself any specific role, as there are many great defencemen on the team. We’ll see after my time at Concordia if I’m offered a professional contract somewhere, and if that’s an option I surely won’t close the door to it.”

Aucoin said he doesn’t have specific personal expectations for his debut with the Stingers. For him, the goal will be to be ready when his name is called on the bench.

“They finished their season well last year,” Aucoin said. “I think the goal will be to continue on that path and do even better. We’re obviously in nothingness right now, but we’re looking forward for the season to start.”


Photos courtesy of Yan Aucoin


Carl Neill: a Stingers odyssey

It’s not unusual for Carl Neill to spend plenty of time handling the puck—he’s the Stingers’ top defenceman.

Even for a defenceman, in the first period against the Nipissing Lakers, his teammates were making sure to feed him the puck as much as they could.

Finally, near the end of the period, the puck went from Neill’s stick to the back of the net. It was a powerplay goal, like many he’d scored before. But this time, the celebration by his teammates was something special.

“I’m really, really proud of him, we all are,” said Neill’s coach, Marc-André Élement.

Neill’s goal was his 84th point as a member of the Concordia Stingers. He had just moved into first place, as the highest scoring defenceman in Stingers history.

“It’s a great honour,” said Neill, who sits just one short of the team’s all-time assist record as well. When he learned he was approaching both records after just three seasons with the team, the stingers alternate captain was shocked.

Carl Neill reflects on his three years as a Concordia Stingers

“I know Concordia’s been around forever,” said Neill. “I imagined there’s some guys a couple hundred years back that must have got a few points so I never really thought of that.”

Maybe he was surprised, but anyone that’s watched him over the last three seasons shouldn’t be. He’s dominated the university game since day one. He’s been one of the country’s best blueliners and made his mark in the Stingers’ history books.

In his three years Neill has collected awards on and off the ice, all-star nominations, and a collection of impressive stats that any player would be proud of.

He has played overseas representing his country, gone to the national university hockey championships, and done it all with the flare to his game that’s allowed him to be one of the top players in the league.

Neill joined the Stingers with a shining resume in junior hockey. He was captain of the Sherbrooke Phoenix in the QMJHL, where he set records just like he’s started to do with the Stingers.

His 178 points rank fourth all-time in Phoenix history while his 139 assists are second overall. Among defencemen though, he is the sole leader in both, along with goals (39).

Sherbrooke was also where he would end up meeting his best friend, future roommate and Stingers teammate Chase Harwell.

The two played three seasons together with the Phoenix and joined forces again a few years later at Concordia. Harwell’s face lights up with a big smile whenever the topic of his teammate and former captain comes up.

“He’s my best friend,” said Harwell. “We grew up together. He’s a great guy, I’m just so happy to see him have that success. He deserves it.”

Chase Harwell and Neill have played together as teammates for six seasons at the junior and university levels combined

His impressive junior career was enough to get him drafted into the NHL. In the fifth round of the NHL entry draft, the Vancouver Canucks chose Neill. He went on to play in several professional training camps before deciding to take the U Sports route and earn a degree before trying to head to the pro leagues when things didn’t work out in terms of the NHL.

Looking back, there’s no doubt in his mind that he made the right choice by going down the U Sports path.

“I made the right decision coming here,” said Neill. “Coming out of junior, not knowing much of what U Sports is Marc told me it was a good program here. I had faith in him and he had faith in me. It coupled well. I’m really happy about my decision. I’m happy I didn’t go to McGill [instead].”

While it’s been gaining traction and notoriety, U Sports isn’t a league that every player knows about coming out of junior. Neill was entering a completely new world and system of hockey. He’s become a major advocate for the league now, but three years ago, it was a leap of faith.

From the moment Neill walked into the Ed Meagher arena, the expectations were sky-high for him. He was the marquee rookie of a strong class of first years. His coach expected him to come in and become a number one defenceman early on.

“He’s going to be the guy who leads the power play, he’s going to be the quarterback,” said Élement just before Neill’s rookie season in 2017. “I’m pretty sure he’s going to be one of the top defencemen in the league.”

Despite any internal or external pressure to come in and be a top player in a new league, Neill played like a veteran from his very first game.

A cerebral player, he was a key contributor in what would be an explosive offense that season. He showed the vision and ability to rush the puck up ice that earned him NHL attention and became an instant player that opposing teams had to gameplan for.

“He certainly lived up to the expectations,” said former stingers captain Philippe Hudon. “He never second-guessed his decision to play U Sports hockey, and coupled with his desire to become a better hockey player, he was an immediate impact to our team and has done wonders since then.”

Neill would end up leading the entire country in scoring by a defenceman with 31 points in 28 games. His team was one of the top eight in the league, earning a trip to the national championship for the first time in over 30 years for Concordia.

Neill has been the back bone of the Stingers’ defensive group since he joined the team back in 2017

While Neill and the Stingers ended up losing, the defender was rewarded for his impressive rookie season. He was named to the OUA East first all-star team as well as the U Sports all-rookie team.

Off the ice, he was presented with the Guy Lafleur award for his combination of success in the game as well as in the classroom. All in all, a good start to his university career.

His second season, the team lost their top two scorers, including league MVP Anthony Beauregard. Instead of an offensive step back, or sophomore slump, Neill kicked it up a notch. Despite a less productive team, he upped his season totals to 33 points, good enough for second in the country among defencemen. He was named to the OUA East all-star team and earned OUA defenceman of the year honours.

On top of that, he was selected to the FISU games to represent Canada in Russia once his season ended. He was among the team of top university players that won bronze at the tournament.

At the start of the year though, another of Neill’s talents was recognized. He was named an assistant captain for the team and his leadership became a major part of his role on the team. The message constantly repeated by teammates is that Neill takes care of people.

As much as his sarcastic prodding and joking are a part of him, he is someone who truly cares for the wellbeing of his teammates.

He helped recruit former teammates like Harwell and Hugo Roy and made sure they and their fellow rookies were brought into the fold immediately and never had to feel like outsiders.

“Obviously he’s an amazing hockey player but on the other side he’s just a great dude,” said Harwell. “If a guy needs a ride, he picks them up. If a guy is having trouble at home or with his girlfriend, he’s there for you. He’s the guy you want on your team.”

Neill’s goal was always to make the guys comfortable, to show them the ropes and have his teammates enjoy an environment where they felt supported and relaxed.

“It’s important to have that on a team,” said Neill, listing past teammates like Hudon who helped him as a rookie. “I came here my first year, not really knowing what was going on. It’s good to pass the torch and help the boys along.”

He’s the kind of player that teammates light up when asked to talk about him. The respect for Neill in the Stingers locker room is evident.

While this past season may not have been as statistically dominant as the last two (20 points in 25 games), Neill had plenty to celebrate.

He played a preseason game as a member of a Quebec U Sports all-star team against the top prospects of the Montreal Canadiens and etched his name across the Stingers record books.

“All the credit goes to him and his work ethic,” said Élement.

Neill now sits 12th all-time in scoring in Stingers history in addition to sitting second all-time in assists and leading among defencemen.

And for the first time, his Stingers future is uncertain. Neill has turned down pro offers every season. He has focused on finishing his degree before turning to the professional world.

Where he’ll be next year, whether it’s at Concordia or on a new team in the pro sphere, is unclear.

If he is wearing a non-Concordia jersey next season, those around him think he’ll be just as successful in that league as he has been in U sports.

“I certainly think he can bring that same impact at the pro level,” said Hudon. “He has tremendous hockey sense. [He’s] capable of effectively fending off attackers as much as anchoring the blue line. Not to mention his high skill level and smooth skating abilities.”

If it’s Neill’s last run with the Stingers, there would be no better way to cap it off than another run to nationals. Despite an up and down year for the team that has been plagued by injuries, the Stingers are red hot heading into the postseason.

Neill called the mood in the room similar to the excitement of his first year where they made their run to nationals.

He definitely has his mind set on getting back there and his teammates can tell.

Neill amassed 84 points in 81 games as a member of the Concordia Stingers

“He wants it bad, he’s pushing even harder,” said Harwell. “It motivates the guys to go even harder as well.”

Looking back to the end of Neill’s first season, when asked if he felt like he was a number one defenceman as his coach had suggested, the rookie said not yet, but maybe next year.

Since then he’s become a franchise leader for defensive scoring, collected all-star nominations, academic awards, represented his country, and made his mark on the team.

When asked the same question at the end of this season, he had a similar answer.

“I don’t know, there’s a lot of number one defencemen in our league. I guess it depends on the night,” said Neill.

After all of this, it is probably safe to say that Neill can call himself not only a number one defenceman, but one of Concordia’s all-time greats.


Carl Neill is a leader in all aspects

Second-year Stinger uses past as a forward to help him as defenceman

When Carl Neill played hockey as a kid, his dad wanted to make sure Neill didn’t become a goalie, because he was one himself. “He encouraged me to not do that part of the sport, so I’m very grateful for that,” Neill said.

Neill’s dad probably made the right decision because his son used his talents as a defenceman to lead the Concordia Stingers men’s hockey team in points this season, with 33. Neill joined the Stingers last year after the Vancouver Canucks, the NHL team that drafted him in the fifth round in 2015, didn’t sign him to a contract. He was named to the U SPORTS all-rookie team last season after earning 31 points, the most by a defenceman in the country.

Neill was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in 2015, but wasn’t signed to a contract. Photo by Hannah Ewen.

Neill added that throughout his hockey career, his dad was always his biggest influence. “I’m an only child, so I spent a lot of time with my dad growing up,” said Neill, who’s from Lachute, Que. “Just the way he is as a guy, with his judgement and character, he was a big role model.”

With nine goals and 55 assists in 56 regular-season games with the Stingers, Neill is the prototypical offensive defenceman. He tries to model his game after Washington Capitals defenceman John Carlson, who had 68 points and won the Stanley Cup last season. “He’s good all-around,” said Neill. “He picks up points, he’s good defensively, and he’s the type of player you need whether you’re up a goal or down a goal.”

Neill started playing hockey as a forward, and says that’s what helps make him so dangerous offensively. He switched positions in pee-wee, and developed his defensive game while playing for the Sherbrooke Phoenix in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QJMHL). “Once I got older, I knew when to jump in the play and make the right decisions,” he said.

The defenceman spent four-and-a-half seasons with the Phoenix, first playing with them at 16 years old in 2012-13. He became team captain in 2015-16, and halfway through the following season, they traded him to the Charlottetown Islanders for two draft picks. Neill said it was emotional to leave Sherbrooke, but understands they had to make the trade to build the team for the future.

“Playing junior hockey at 16 was really special, and it was my first time away from home, so the city really took me in with open arms,” Neill said about his time in Sherbrooke. “A lot of teams in junior are run like a business, but [it] felt like a family. A lot of the staff, coaches, and players I’m still in contact with today.”

Two of Neill’s former teammates in Sherbrooke during the 2014-15 season, Raphaël Lafontaine and Charles-Éric Légaré, helped influence him to join the Stingers in 2017. In turn, Neill influenced forward Hugo Roy to join the team this season. Roy played three seasons with the Phoenix, and was team captain after Neill left.

“Recruiting comes a lot from players who know each other,” Neill said. “Especially schools around [Montreal]. They pretty much have all the same things to offer, especially hockey-wise […]. Knowing Legaré and Lafontaine, I got a good sense of what the program was like.”

As was the case with Sherbrooke, Neill quickly established himself as a leader for the Stingers. In just his second season, he was chosen as assistant captain, alongside forward Philippe Sanche and defenceman Alexandre Gosselin. As a leader, Neill said he wants to be held accountable.

“I’m not going to start yelling at guys about plays I didn’t do myself,” Neill said. “I try to stay pretty calm and lead by example on the ice.”

The Stingers had a star-studded rookie class last year that included Neill and forward Massimo Carozza. Both were named to the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) all-rookie team last year. Most of those players left to pursue other opportunities, such as Carozza, who went to play professional hockey in Italy.

Neill and forward Jean-Philippe Beaulieu were the only two rookies from last season to stay with the team this year. Neill, who studies human relations, wants to graduate from university before thinking about a professional career.  

“With Vancouver not working out, I had a few pro options [in the minor leagues], but they were all a one-year deal,” Neill said. “I felt more comfortable going to school and getting a degree first […]. For me, it was tough; you see guys whose careers don’t pan out and they have nothing left.”

Neill said he chose to study human relations because it suits his personality. He applies things he’s learned in the classroom to the locker room, such as conflict resolution and working with different types of people, which has helped him be a better leader. Once he graduates from Concordia, he plans to continue pursuing his dream of playing professional hockey.

“I need to round off my game,” Neill said about what he needs to improve. “Offence has always been a key part of my game, but a better understanding defensively would get me to the next level.”

The Stingers season ended in the first round of the playoffs against the Queen’s Gaels last week.

Main photo by Hannah Ewen.


Three’s company, four’s a crowd

The Concordia Stingers men’s hockey team now has a quartet of goalies with the addition of Marc-Antoine Turcotte

Coming into the 2016-2017 season, Concordia Stingers men’s hockey head coach Marc-André Élement brought in a plethora of fresh talent, including leading goal-scorer Anthony Deluca, forward Philippe Sanche, forward Anthony Beauregard and defenseman Mickaël Beauregard.

In addition, Élement brought in two new goaltenders to make the team more competitive on the back end. The first was Philippe Cadorette, who was an exceptional goaltender with the Baie-Comeau Drakkar of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). Cadorette had the league’s best save percentage in 2014 and made the all-star team that same year. The second of these goalies was Marc-Antoine Turcotte, who played for the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL.

“We had the opportunity to improve at the goalie level. Now I’m not saying last year our goalies didn’t do the job. We didn’t have the same team,” Élement said. “We had the chance to bring in two goalies with a lot of QMJHL experience and it’s been an opportunity to let in less goals per game and right now we’re having success.”

When the season started, Cadorette quickly became the team’s number one goalie after two solid games against the Carleton Ravens. Turcotte, on the other hand, had to wait until the winter semester to suit up for the Stingers, as he was ineligible to play due to age restrictions.

Marc-Antoine Turcotte was added this fall, but only became eligible to play in January.

Turcotte got his first start with the team on Jan. 4 in a game against the Royal Military College of Canada. He turned aside 20 out of 21 shots in the match, with the team winning 7-1. Since then, Turcotte has been established as the backup goalie.

However, with Cadorette and Turcotte currently holding the number two top spots, the Stingers are in an interesting situation, as they now have four capable goalies on the roster. Miguel Sullivan, who is in his second year with the team, and Antoine Marchand, as well as Turcotte and Cadorette, are all competing with each other for the top spot on the team.

For Élement, the competition is healthy, as none of the goalies have been guaranteed the starting job. According to Élement, if the goalies want to be the starter, they have to earn it.

“It’s going to be big competition to get in the net,” Élement said. “When you have competition, you get better and this is why I like competition within the team. It’s a healthy competition and all of the guys work really hard. They’ve definitely given us a hard time to choose who’s going to play.”

According to Cadorette, having three other goalies to compete with has helped him improve his game this season.

“It’s been good competition because we all want to be the best,” Cadorette said. “Competition makes you better, and there’s plenty of that here.”

Sullivan, who was the starting goaltender at the end of last season, said battling for the net is nothing new, and that it’s a situation every goaltender faces no matter where they play.

“I can’t speak for the other guys, but I haven’t changed the way I play,” Sullivan said. “I still come to the rink and focus on what I have to do. I’m trying to improve everyday.”

“We all know that we can’t afford to take a day off because we’re all ready to play,” added Marchand.

While all four goalies are in intense competition with each other, according to Turcotte and Sullivan, the competition has remained friendly throughout the season.

“It’s been a lot of fun this year. In practice, we play off each other, we kind of joke about it all and the four of us all have good chemistry together, so there’s never been any issues between any of us,” Marchand said.

“I would definitely say it’s a healthy relationship between all of us for now,” Turcotte said.

Miguel Sullivan has been with the team since last season and has played two playoff games.

Before the season started, Cadorette and Sullivan were the top two goalies on the team. With the addition of Turcotte, Sullivan is now the third string goalie and Marchand is the fourth.

Despite his status as a fourth string goalie, Marchand, a fourth-year veteran, has taken his role in stride and been a role model for the younger goalies, according to Élement.

“Being in my fourth year, there is obviously a responsibility on my end to be a leader and to help the team out as much as I can in any role that I’m given, and my mindset is to get better on my own and help us all get better,” Marchand said. “Cadorette and Turcotte have come to me for help in terms of guiding them through the university process, and I’m more than happy to help since I’ve done it before.”

Marchand added that, despite not playing this year, he and the other goalies on the team feel they all get a fair shot in practice. He said, no matter what, he has been put in a position where he feels ready to play if anybody goes down.

With Marchand leaving the team at the end of the season, Élement addressed whether or not he will be looking for a fourth goalie to replace him.

“We’re going to stick to three goalies for now,” Élement said. “I’m happy with how they’ve all played and they’ve definitely met our expectations.”


The QMJHL’s labour rules are immoral

Elite junior hockey players in Quebec are not being treated fairly by the league

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), the highest level of junior hockey in Quebec, and the Quebec Government have recently agreed to make changes to the provincial labour laws with regards to junior players’ salaries to help accommodate the league.

While the minister of labour and the premier have stayed quiet on the matter, the league recently made an online announcement saying that the provincial government “would bring forward an exemption to confirm that athletes are not covered by employment legislation.” The league pushed the Ministry of Labour to make this decision so that their players are no longer viewed as professionals, but rather as “student athletes.” This is similar to the way that the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the Canadian Interuniversity Sport view their athletes.

According to the Chronicle Herald, these changes not only allow teams pay their players less than minimum wage, but the league also does not have to define work hours or protect their players in the case of termination.

The league’s persistent lobbying has essentially legalized the shady practices that the league has been doing for years. According to its administrative rulebook, the league pays a 16-year-old player $60 per week. If you think that sounds low, well you’re right. Minimum wage in Quebec is $10.75 per hour. Basically, if you work a nine-to-five job at a fast food restaurant once a week, you’re already making more than a player who is putting in eight-hour days at the rink and the gym every single day, while also attending school. This is not to discredit anyone working fast food jobs, but it does put the situation into perspective.

There is just something inherently wrong with stripping your employees of many of their workers’ rights while trying save money. While it is true that many teams in the Canadian junior leagues struggle to break even, while many more lose money, it’s hard to get behind the idea that these players aren’t even worth minimum wage to the league. Now that the league has been given a “carte blanche” by the government, I’m worried that its players won’t have the leverage to protest these changes.

I know most players just want to play hockey and make their respective teams, but this issue is about more than whether junior players get paid to follow their dreams. This is an ethical issue in which the government is openly allowing and facilitating an organization to abuse its employees.

I sympathize with the league—it is very difficult to make money in small venues. However, having players who put in countless hours to help the league make money yet receive very little of that money as compensation is simply not right. The league is right about one thing—the teams are an essential part of the cultural identity of many Quebec communities. So it’s time to start treating the players like they are.

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