Deciding which day means more to him -- Dec. 23, 2005 or Dec. 15, 2008 -- shouldn't be too difficult for Brandon Wheat Kings captain Keith Aulie.
The latter is the day one of his dreams came true. The former is the day he saved his father's life.
Canada National Junior Team coach Pat Quinn selected Aulie as one of his eight defensemen for the 2009 World Junior Championship because the stay-at-home blueliner is a rock solid 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds.
Aulie's size and strength are why his father, Bill, is alive today.
"It was the 23rd of December and I was home from Brandon for Christmas," Aulie, a Calgary Flames prospect, told NHL.com. "Dad thought we'd clean off the family (pond) so we could have a game of shinny because my billets were coming in from Brandon. Dad put the tractor on the ice and then just, boom, just straight through the ice. The roof of the tractor was level with the ice. There was no way to escape. The tractor went straight down. It was just a plugged hole."
Aulie, who is quick to react during games, went racing over to the scene.
Albeit shaken by watching the tractor crash through the ice, which Aulie suspects was only six inches deep at that part of the pond, he ran over and got on the top of the part of the tractor that was still above the water. He managed to lean over and got about half of his body into the frigid water, just enough so he could reach his father.
Calgary Flames defense prospect Keith Aulie has no plans to become an NHL offensive superstar, and for good reason. At 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds, he's supposed to sacrifice the beauty of the game for the bruising part of it.
"We project him as a strong defensive defenseman who’s able to get the puck out of his own end, but is hard to play against physically," Flames Director of Scouting Tod Button told the team's Web site.
Aulie's shut-down ability landed him on Canada's National Junior Team for the 2009 World Junior Championship in Ottawa. The Brandon Wheat Kings captain and Flames' 2007 fourth-round pick was one of eight defensemen selected.
"He's not an overly physical player, but he's very strong and he certainly puts priority on being a shut-down defenseman," Brandon coach/GM Kelly McCrimmon told NHL.com. "He's in his fourth year with our team and I think he has steadily improved. Last season he became one of our assistant captains and this year he is our captain. I think he has taken huge steps over the last two years. He has really become one of the top defenseman in the league. He's so big with great reach and he's a very intelligent player that skates well."
Aulie has also been more assertive with the puck this season. He had 2 goals and 15 assists through 32 games after posting 6 goals and 22 assists through his first 176 WHL games, including 5 goals and 12 assists in 72 games last season.
He told NHL.com that working on his puck skills was going to be a major point of emphasis this season, which should be his last before he turns pro.
"That's probably my biggest weakness, when I get the puck to get my head up and see the ice with good vision," Aulie said. "I have worked on my poise, but on from there I need to get more assertive and aggressive. My style is shutting down other teams' top players, so if I do all that it'll make me pretty tough to play against."
McCrimmon said he has seen a drastic change in Aulie's puck-moving ability.
"As a pro he's going to be a guy that is always making a good first pass and thinking the game," McCrimmon said. "At our level he has really become so much better with the puck and that's really helped him take another step with his game.
"He plays our power play now a little bit and he didn't last year. Offensively his numbers are ahead of what he had last year. That's been a part of his game that has really improved and really helped his confidence."
Flames General Manager Darryl Sutter said Aulie can turn into a Robyn Regehr-type player. According to Aulie's bio on the Wheat Kings' Web site, Regehr is his favorite NHL player and the one he compares himself to, as well.
"I think that's a fair comparison," McCrimmon said. "The Flames have Keith watch and model his game after Regehr. For Keith, he's a great player to pattern himself after. In the general comparison, Keith has better size in terms of height and reach. Physically, few are like Robyn Regehr."
"The tractor was actually still running so it was hitting the bottom, driving up ahead a little bit, then floating up and plugging the hole a little bit," Aulie said. "I timed it right in the bob and I saw dad's head by looking down through the water. I was down pretty far in, and I thought I was going to fall in, too."
The tractor dug in at just the right time and Aulie had enough time to reach into the water, grab his father and pull him up and out. Aulie said his father is about 6-4 and normally weighs 210 pounds, but he was soaking wet and wearing a Ski-doo suit.
Still, Aulie was able to throw him a good 10 feet and then carry him to the house.
"He said the thing that hurt the most after that whole thing was him hitting the ice after I threw him out," Aulie said. "I can attest to finding some strength that maybe you don't have every day."
Aulie remembers the incident lasting all of 15 seconds. He said his father was able to snake out of the tractor because the back window shattered under the water.
"I didn't think once," Aulie said. "I can't remember thinking about anything I did. It just kind of happened. One minute I was standing there, and the next I was throwing him out of the water.
"Ten minutes before he went out there he said, 'You better come over and see how much this ice is cracking when I drive on it.' I can't imagine what would have happened if I didn't say yes. Supper was on, so I could have went in and had supper and that could have happened and we never would have known."
Later that night, Aulie said the family, including Bill, went to the local rink to watch his sister play hockey.
"We told some family friends there and at first they just kind of chuckled, but then it set in for them, too, how serious it was," Aulie said. "It wasn’t a funny little thing. It was serious and they were shocked."
That spring, Aulie was honored with the Red Cross Rescuer Award during a game in Brandon. The following fall he was awarded a Rescue Commendation by the Lifesaving Society of Saskatchewan, but Bill had to accept it on Keith's behalf. He had a game in Brandon, and he wasn't going to miss it. You don't become the captain of a major-junior hockey team by missing games for your own personal gain, no matter how important the award may be.
"I know it’s prestigious and a big honor, but I was back in Brandon playing hockey," Aulie said. "I don't think I did anything differently than anyone else would do. What would make it any different than if you did that? It's no different."
That doesn't make what Aulie did any less heroic or satisfying.
"I was kind of shaken up, and later that night things were running through my head, you know, the what ifs and stuff," Aulie said. "That's when I really started to realize what happened."