Thursday, February 2, 2012

Battler of Bunker Hill: Brewster Captain Aaron Titcomb Looks Toward Future



His face jumps out at me right away, producing a muted ‘wow’.  Then I realize I’m looking up at this hulking youngster, not always common when you’re 6’2”. Clad in a Bruins hoodie and carrying the manners that have seemingly dwindled to a rarity among his peers, 18-year-old Aaron Titcomb politely orders the turkey tips at the Nines and readies himself for what could be painful topics.

Titcomb, a 6’4”, 200 lb. defenseman from Charlestown and senior captain on the Brewster Academy hockey team, has an easygoing, happy-go-lucky demeanor. Hoping to finish up his pre-college career with a flourish, Titcomb is aiming to catch the eyes of a few more scouts in his quest to put a hat on some unfinished family business. He wants to do what his father was derailed from doing. That consisted of taking advantage of natural skills, parlaying those into a hockey scholarship, and playing professionally somewhere some day. Oh, and he’s also taking on this task after suffering a broken neck  (broken C-3 and fractured C-4 verterbrae as well as a concussion) just two years ago.

Born in May of 1993, Titcomb, in true Townie fashion, was taught by his grandmother how to skate in the place that Hollywood would later morph into Ben Affleck’s post-score meeting spot. Like pretty much every tyke thrown to the wolves that is a sheet of frozen water, Titcomb got his verdict right away---that boy can skate. He proudly donned the fabled, if not the original, Monument of Charlestown Youth Hockey until squirts. From there, the talented, swift-skating D-man joined a series of traveling teams and invite squads over the next few years so he could play up to the level of his skills until high school came calling.

Titcomb settled on Austin Prep, a perennially solid contender and launching pad for another son of Charlestown, Tommy Fitzgerald, who had a lengthy, successful career as an NHL checking line extraordinaire. He jumped right into a big role for a freshman---#3 on the defenseman chart.

After an impressive rookie campaign, Titcomb played himself up to the #1 backliner for a ranked squad. He played in all situations because of his talent and reliability. He was poised be the team’s best player in his junior year, infrequent for a D-man in MA HS hockey, and also be in a good spot to perhaps be the last man standing at the Garden.

This is where the trajectory of Titcomb’s hockey future was forever altered, from a rising star to burning comet to, hopefully, a skyward rocket once again. Instead of returning to AP, he opted to join the then-Bridgewater Bandits of the burgeoning Eastern Junior Hockey League (EJHL). With its competitive environment and the success of flyover country’s junior USHL, Titcomb and his family decided to leave AP. It wasn’t an easy decision. “But we thought it was the best decision”, said Titcomb.

Through no fault of his own, things started off rough and only got rougher. In Titcomb’s first game, he broke his collarbone, an injury that would shelve him for three months. Incredibly, he finished the game after suffering what is often described as one of the most painful bone breaks you can take without passing out from pain. Not only did it reveal Titcomb’s heart and desire for the game, it showed he had an incredible pain tolerance. But even pain tolerance can’t outrun a broken neck.

In just his seventh game back after the collapsed clavicle, Titcomb suffered the unthinkable. While finishing a play behind his net, he was crushed from behind and immediately fell into a heap (the kid who hit him was tossed from the league for the hit). After being down for several minutes, Titcomb somehow managed to skate to the bench under his own power. With a broken neck. And, oh yeah, he was expecting to go back out for his next shift. But fortunately, the ambulance personnel, fire fighter in attendance, and coach recognized just how hurt he was and immediately stabilized his neck before he was taken off by ambulance. For the next seven months, Aaron had to wear a neck brace and could not skate for seven months.

“Adversity is similar to proving people wrong”, said Titcomb. And this was just his latest bit of adversity. The first time adversity hit Titcomb’s life, even if he was unaware it had, was when his father, Albert (Albie to those who knew him), was murdered in cowardly cold blood by a lifelong alleged chum. In the interest of full disclosure, I knew Albie on a better-than-casual but not quite “we boys” level. We played quite a bit of street/ball/gym hockey against each other and always were very cordial to each other. In the confines of our one square mile, he was a hell of player with a bomb of a shot, whether on parquet or ice. He certainly had the skill to play, at minimum, a D2 school. But, like so many of our peers, he fell victim to foreign substances that robbed him of his potential. That was bad enough. Sickeningly, it was one of his own peers, in a truly delusional power trip, which robbed him of his life over nothing, really.

But Aaron is determined to fulfill the void that his dad unintentionally left for him. In fact, he feels like that’s his destiny right now. “Yeah, I definitely want to fill those footsteps my dad wasn’t able to. Everybody tells me he was a great player and I want to finish what he started.” So far, his career at Brewster has put him on the path to success after such a debilitating injury. Last season, as a junior, he led the team in points while manning the role of #1 defenseman. This year, he was unanimously voted team captain of the Bobcats and his teammates haven’t regretted their choice one bit, as Titcomb’s durable two-way play helps his team immensely. “Shea Weber and Keith Yandle [another descendant of C’town] are the two players I model myself after”. Pretty good role models.

In addition to his skills on the ice, Titcomb also is on track to be a Magna Cum Laude graduate. Furthering his hockey career and being a top-notch student aren’t the only things he wants to do. “I want to inspire other kids who had similar situations, I hope to give back”, he said.

But, he wants to make sure that I know none of this happens without the guidance and stewardship of his mother Mary (Johnson) Gillen. It’s pretty clear that she is his main inspiration. “Look at her”, he’d often tell himself. A teenaged single mother that lost any lingering hope of growing up as a family after Albie’s death, Mary soldiered on and, in the process, set an excellent example for her son that he still follows to this day. He also credits his grandparents and his step-father Jimmy Gillen (again, full disclosure, I’ve known Jimmy for almost 30 years) for instilling in him the strength and confidence to fight through adversity. “He (Jimmy) has really made work hard and pushed me toward making a name for myself and that’s the only thing I want to do.”

Right now, the future is in Titcomb’s hands. And there’s no other way he’d rather have it. Rather than regrets about past events or despair about his upbringing, this kid is just happy to look ahead to what’s around the bend. Still, that doesn’t mean he forgets about what has happened. Hardly. Instead, Titcomb has a constant reminder that he wears around his neck. It’s a picture of his dad; the dad he never got to know yet the one whose dreams he can still complete.

“I’m not going to be satisfied until I play on a professional level,” he tells me.

I won’t be surprised if he’s satisfied, at all.



28 comments:

  1. That pic reminds me of a young Chara and Bergeron.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great story. He seems like a smart,tough kid. Best of luck to him.

    ReplyDelete
  3. What a great story....cant wait to see where he plays in the nhl...hope its close would love to see it.....

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great piece! Sharing it everywhere. Yay, Aaron! =)

    ReplyDelete
  5. he is a great kid. im lucky to be a classmate and teammate of his. On top of all that, he is also going to be a captain of the defending champion baseball team in the spring

    ReplyDelete
  6. Nice story about a Charlestown kid who makes good. I grew up in Town and never had any regrets living there, playing there and making lifelong friends. I wouldnt have traded it for anything. I sure hope he follows his dreams and continues on the right road. Best of Luck Aaron and keep up the good work. PS Your father was a good man and a friend to all who met him

    ReplyDelete
  7. Aaron,

    I am so proud of you doing this interview with Brian McGonagle what a great and true story of your ups and downs and how you came back to what you love to do and that is playing hockey. When you have a dream nothing will hold you back and you are living proof. Nana, Pa and all your uncles and aunts support you in whatever you want to do. You are my young man (1st born Grandson)and just go after your dreams. Whatever you choose you will succeed. Love you NAN

    ReplyDelete
  8. aaron i am so proud of you,you have come a long way,your dad was really good as you heard,i know he is looking down on you so proudly,you look just like him,good luck to you,your the best,love ya,aunti ellie south carolina.

    ReplyDelete
  9. God Bless You Aaron. You were a wonderful little boy, who turned into a fine young man. You've made so many people proud, all along the way. This isn't some kid who just got lucky. He is one of the most caring, compassionate, and respectful young gentlemen you'll ever meet. I wish you all the best Honey! You deserve every bit of it and more!

    ReplyDelete
  10. BEST WISHES, GIVE CREDIT TO THE YOUNG MEN WHO DO THE RIGHT THING IN LIFE...GRAB AND GO FOR YOUR DREAM AaRON.... AN OLD NEIGHBOR OF YOUR DAD....

    ReplyDelete
  11. hes a murderer..."chum".....there is nothing against his family but that man did a rotten thing and took this kid's father away in cold blood...look at the whole story and see a kid who is doing good after what he was put through...appreciate it will ya

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. *18 years ago

      Delete
    2. I dont know how you could post a comment like that on here... This article is supposed to be positive about a young man who is making something of himself... If you have nothing nice to say don't say anything at all.....you shouldn't have even read it in the first place..grow up

      Delete
  12. what college has d2 hockey?

    ReplyDelete
  13. St. A's, Assumption College is D-2 and U-Mass Lowell was befor becoming a D1 in the late 80's early 90's

    ReplyDelete
  14. He chose his life and he chose to take a life that's why he is where he is

    ReplyDelete
  15. I removed the totally inappropriate, sympathy-for-the-devil comments (naturally, without a name attached). That person can go write his or her own blog about the plight of a murderer's children if he/she's so concerned---the blog about Aaron certainly wasn't the forum for any such talk. But, that is the Internet...sadly.

    To the person asking about D2, I was referring to the era when Albie was playing hockey and plenty of schools were still DII before switching to I or III a few years later. I was trying to describe his skill level.

    To everybody who chimed in, thank you so much. Your kind words are most gratefully appreciated. It was a pleasure to sit down with Aaron so I could write this and he's a hell of kid who I'll be rooting for.

    Go get 'em, kid.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Such a great story and so well written. I came from a similar story but am sad to say I never made it to the NHL. I am so proud that there are people in this world like Aaron that can fly high above all the bad that has happened to him in life and make something of himself. I looked him up through google and his name seems to be everywhere for hockey and looking at his photo he looks like a monster out there on skates. I am sure that he will be in the NHL since he has overcome so much already. I am going to keep watching the news and try to follow him to see if he reaches his dream. I hope that maybe you read this Aaron and will respond. At least when you make the NHL some day I can tell everyone I know that I once talked to Aaron Titcomb, a pro athlete in the NHL!!!! That would be great for sure. But I am sure you are busy with sports and school, but just try not to forget your fans, because I am one of them!!! Keep going on my friend I will be watching you soon in the NHL!!

    - Gary from minnesota

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. hey gary thanks for the comment. do you have an email address that I could get in touch with you? I would love to talk.

      Delete
    2. Aaron- I was going traveling thru Boston/Cambridge this morning and a worker spotted my Men's Hockey hat and struck up a conversation. Glad to see our local program is recruiting you!!! The person I spoke to was very proud of you and from all that I've read and heard I hope you join our program. It sounds like you are a very brilliant young man able to persevere thru even the worst of situations and that it exactly the type of character/student that excels here.
      Good luck wherever you go!
      Men Ice Hockey Fan/MassPike commuter from Western Mass

      Delete
  17. Aaron we are so proud of you kiddo!!! You have the qualities that every young man should strive to achieve. Your overall disposition is a beautiful way to be, and you set an example for other young men to follow. Aiden loves his cousin and wants to be "as tall as cousin Aaron some day"! We love you Aaron and can't wait to see what your future holds!!! Uncle Kirk, Jaime and Aiden

    ReplyDelete
  18. Not a doubt in my mind he can do it,,his dad had a slap shot that would whistle as it went bye,and he was so strong,,as i can tell arron is, hockeys is in your blood...your uncle todd was a amazing goaltender as well,,and i had the privlege of knowing albie,and know that he is looking down on his boy everyday,,everygame,,and is SO PROUD,,,and his mom,anyone who knows her,knows that she is a beautiful soul,amazing woman,and a WONDERFUL MOTHER! and the faimly he has around him and his motivation,talent and persistence,,,,,,,,,like i said "NOT A DOUBT" he will achieve his goal and much more!!! Arron keep it up!! Billy B
    ,

    ReplyDelete
  19. I've seen Aaron out and about Charlestown since he was a kid. The one thing that always caught my eye was that he consistently had a ball, bat, or stick in his hands in front of 33 Old Ironsides, and then the Bunker Hill Park. Aaron is a fantastic young man with one of the most easy going dispositions. It's something you truly have witness.
    I know Aaron would agree that much of his success on and off the ice is a direct result of his mothers strength and character. I've actually seen her playing catcher for Aaron when he wanted to show off his fastball! Hockey parents are a different breed. Cold rinks at 6am and a thousand dollars worth of equipment in their bag. They sacrafice so much. Hats off to Mary, Aaron, and Jimmy.
    And I have no doubt that Travis will be a terror for opposing teams in the near future.
    Best wishes!

    ReplyDelete
  20. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!!!! Way to go Aaron :)
    You make this whole family very very proud.
    Lisa

    ReplyDelete
  21. As a good friend of Aarons, I just wanted to congragulate him on his success. It's nice to know there are kids out there who can play hockey and still be genuinely good people. Can't wait to get the boys back together this summer, I'll be seeing you up the Bunka. Good luck man!
    Quin

    ReplyDelete
  22. You heard it here first. Aaron will be the first-ever MLB "Townie" draft pick. In my 55 years, he is the best baseball player I've ever seen.

    ReplyDelete