Greg Mauldin with Junior Bruins players at the New England Sports Center.
Editor’s Note: This is Part I of our two-part diversity series focused on players, coaches, staff and programs that make us #MassProud with their inclusion efforts and playing the game they love no matter what.
Mike Grier, who splashed into the pages of Sports Illustrated as a 9-year-old back in 1984 (he’d scored more than 100 goals in consecutive seasons) before making waves at St. Sebastian’s, Boston University and in the NHL, grew up in Holliston, Mass.
Greg Mauldin, seven years younger, also grew up in Holliston, and it was Grier’s impact on hockey that provided an example for Mauldin’s own successful college and professional career.
Now decades removed from the day, Mauldin still remembers the first time the pair met when Mauldin and his friends were out riding bikes and spotted Grier outside a CVS. At the time, Grier was already a local star worthy of an autograph.
“Quite honestly, he was a living legend,” says the recently retired Mauldin, who in October broke a bit of ground himself when he became the first Black coach at USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program. “We went over and asked for his autograph. He was really nice and reached in his car to find a piece of paper and a pen. It was awesome. I remember riding home all excited to tell my parents about it. Cool moment for me.”
Mauldin’s parents would also serve a critical role in his growing up as a hockey player in Massachusetts, where even at the earliest stages of his career, there were hurdles for a player of color.
“That was something that my parents helped me understand at a pretty young age,” he says. “They said, ‘You’re not going to be looked at as a normal person playing hockey. Every time you step on the ice, people are going to take notice of you, no matter what, so let’s let them notice you for all the good reasons.’ Honestly, most of that stuff that happened at a very young age, where I’m not even sure kids understood how hurtful it could be.”
Retired NHL player Mike Grier on the bench coaching for the New Jersey Devils.
Greg Mauldin during his playing days at UMass Amherst.
Still, the sleights didn’t hurt his passion for the game of hockey.
“No, it was still a game to me,” says Mauldin. “Then you have racial slurs being thrown at you at that age, and you start to understand a little bit more that it might be just a game to me, but there are some people where it’s an opportunity for other things. I still loved the game, so it wasn’t going to make me stop, but it was something I was going to have to deal with.”
Now coaching many of the very best teenage players in the country, some of whom will go on to play in international tournaments, at prestigious colleges and possibly in the NHL, Mauldin is now a role model as a coach. Beyond what he’s endured along the way, or the career he carved out for himself, one that included 36 games in the NHL and would likely still be going but for the pandemic, his own teenage work ethic is worth following.
From a young age, Mauldin certainly put in the work – almost literally eating, drinking and sleeping hockey.
Simply working at the New England Sports Center, where he was sharpening skates and driving the Zamboni, wasn’t enough. No, he’d also sleep at the rink to pick up as much ice as he could, rolling out a foam mattress and catching his ZZZs in a locker room. A typical run: Start his afternoon shift, work at the rink until the traditional hockey day was over, get on the ice for a while, clean the ice again, sleep, wake up for a skate and start it all over again.
“It was just kind of a natural thing to do,” says Mauldin. “I would always call home and make sure they knew where I was. Part of it was, ‘Are you going to come home tonight? Nope I’m gonna stay at the rink.’ To many people, it was a very strange conversation, but it was natural for me and even my boss at the time. ‘Are you going to sleep here? OK, see you in the morning.’”
After being cut from a handful of AAA teams, Mauldin found momentum with the Junior Bruins.
“I worked really hard with them,” he says. “I thought, ‘If I can play in this league, I could consider myself decent among my peers.’ My first junior game was in a tournament and I had a pretty nice assist and the game-winner in overtime. Right after that, it was like I had five schools interested right away. It went from literally nobody to schools asking my coach about me.”
From there, Mauldin chose to play college hockey at UMass.
“I took a lot of heat for going to ‘a bad hockey school,’” says Mauldin, who scored more than 90 points in three seasons and credits assistant coach Bill Gilligan for some of his success. “Then in my second year we lost in the Hockey East semifinals and in my junior year, we lost in triple overtime of the finals. That was really rewarding to be part of a program finishing in dead last to almost winning a championship.”
Mauldin would then spend the better part of the next two decades being paid to play hockey in North America and across Europe, most recently in Norway. It was in Norway that, while rehabbing a hamstring injury, Mauldin began working with the coaching staff. During the pandemic-extended offseason, the USA Hockey opportunity presented itself, and the transition from player to coach became official.
“I didn’t think it was going to happen this way,” Mauldin says of a process that moved quickly. “I always knew I was going to have to retire, and when USA Hockey offered me the job, after I played 16-plus years professionally, I could leave the game in good health. With the pandemic going, I didn’t even know if I’d be playing this year.”
It’s rare that a coach is closer to professional hockey than the NTDP players may feel they are, but Mauldin brings that very fresh perspective.
“They see, ‘Oh, you can play?’ and I think that helps, knowing that if the pandemic wasn’t going, on I’d still be playing,” he says. “You know there’s going to be change in your life and I couldn’t ask for a better spot to start my [coaching] career. I’m happy to be with them and I hope I can help them along with any problems they go through – because I’ve already been through problems they won’t ever have to go through.”
Greg Mauldin while playing for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Greg Mauldin during his playing days for the Colorado Avalanche.
For the time being, his players have a strong ally
“Right now, I’m in a situation where my players coach,” Mauldin says. “I love these guys. I want to help them develop their games. I want to be able to give them direct answers and I want to be a coach who holds them accountable and is fair. I want them to do the things that can help them get further. A lot of kids can score goals, and that’s great, but I want them to be good at understanding [the game]. I’m here to help develop these kids to be the best players they can be.”
Also for the time being, Mauldin sees himself as a coach first and as a groundbreaking coach second.
“Honestly, I just want to keep leading by example,” he says. “I’m not a big talker. It’s just not my style. Just like Mikey, he wasn’t talking; he was just doing something that he loves. And that’s what I want to do. That’s the way I want to go about it. Maybe down the line I’ll be more vocal about it. But, for the time being, I just want to lead by example and let my actions do the talking.”
Karly Aguirre in her Stevenson player profile photo.
Karly Aguirre started on the ice young. Really young. The Waltham native began skating at the age of 2 and eventually played boys’ hockey in town before joining Assabet Valley – and also continuing with girls’ teams in Waltham.
“I just liked that I had people I grew up with in my hometown, and then another team where almost no one was one from the same place, so I got to meet a lot of different people,” says Aguirre, who is of Hispanic descent. “I think it was just a great way for me to make friends and find out who I was. We all just bonded over the same love of hockey.”
Sports can often level a playing field, and Aguirre can look back at her time in Waltham and with Assabet as a nearly life-long bonding experience over hockey, no matter how different or similar her teammates’ backgrounds were.
“I never really had that person to be, like, ‘Oh, they’re the same as me,’ as someone I could follow, or like that was something I could do,” she says. “I never thought of myself as being different from someone else, but, when you really look at the people playing hockey and the people around you, you kind of are, like, ‘Oh, I am a little bit different.’ But it doesn’t matter to a lot of people because we’re all doing the same exact thing, playing the game that we love.”
After 14 years with Assabet, Aguirre, who knew she wanted to play college hockey, is in her sophomore year at Stevenson University in Maryland.
“I know specifically when I went to college, I got a different view because people are coming from all across the country,” says Aguirre. “There was another Hispanic girl on my team, and we bonded over that. I never really grew up playing with somebody else who was like me, so I think that was an exciting moment for me.”
This past November, Aguirre was moved to write a blog for the Hockey Players of Color.
“I was inspired by showing other people that you may look different, but you can also be the same and bond with other people,” she says. “I think everybody should just be able to play the game that they love with some of their really close friends.”
Karly Aguirre with her fellow Waltham teammates with younger Waltham players.
In her freshman season, Aguirre scored nine goals in 25 games and earned both UCHC All-Rookie Team and All-MAC First Team honors, and though Covid threw some bumps into her sophomore season, Aguirre has been able to spend some more time in Massachusetts before returning for her next term at Stevenson. She may be in no rush to leave Stevenson, either, but she could see hockey in her future.
“After college, I think I definitely still want to be around hockey, whether it’s coaching or who knows what,” says Aguirre, who admits to being such a rink rat that she and her mom would go looking for games on days she wasn’t playing. “But I definitely want to stick around and be around hockey because it’s something I love – whether playing it or watching it, or teaching somebody how to play.”
If that crosses with the topic of diversity, all the better.
“It’s definitely something that interests me,” Aguirre says. “I never really thought much about speaking to people about it, but it definitely interests me, especially diversity in hockey, and especially growing up with who I was and not being around a lot of people of color.”
Her advice for the next generation?
“My biggest advice for younger kids is to bond over something that you love and don’t worry about how people look or the differences that people have,” Aguirre says. “Whether you’re in a diverse crowd or you all come from similar backgrounds, I think when you can bond over something like the love of the game, I believe it will bring you together and not push people apart. And somebody you didn’t see yourself ever talking to, maybe you will become best friends because you have a similar passion and love for a game like hockey.”