Inaugural Travis Roy Award winner Brian Toussaint proud of hockey past

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Brian Toussaint won the Travis Roy Player of the Year Award in 1996, the year he graduated from St. Dominic Academy. He now has a 4-year-old daughter, Kennedy. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

When Brian Toussaint pulled out his Travis Roy Award trophy, his young daughter got “all wide-open-eyed.”

It’s hard not to while staring at a generously-sized metallic hockey player forever in stride atop a solid wooden base.

Yet the younger Toussaint knew nothing of the origin of this shiny statue, or even of the sport he was playing.

“She doesn’t get the idea of where it came from and what it is yet,” Brian said. “She hasn’t had too much of daddy in his past life.”

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His daughter is the apple of his eye, and he’s built quite a career in real estate.

But once upon a time Brian Toussaint was also a hockey player — one who shone as brightly as the statue in his closet.

“He was by far the best candidate for the first Travis Roy Award,” current Edward Little High School boys’ hockey coach Norm Gagne said.

In 1996, Toussaint’s senior season at St. Dominic Academy, Gagne was the head coach at rival Waterville High School. He and every other coach in Class A hockey knew giving the award, indicative of the best all-around senior hockey player in Maine, to Toussaint was a no-brainer.

Origin of an award

Maine’s high school hockey coaches had handed out a “player of the year” award before 1996, but that year was the first the honor was given in Travis Roy’s name.

Roy was a standout at Yarmouth High School and North Yarmouth Academy in Maine before moving on to Tabor Academy in Massachusetts and, finally, to Boston University. In the fall of 1995 he suffered a career-ending injury in his first shift that left him a quadriplegic.

Roy’s accident hit home. Toussaint and fellow finalists Ed Washuk of Cony High School and John Lauziere of Lewiston High School were humbled to be mentioned alongside his name.

“It was definitely one of those things where, I think it fit to name it after him after that situation happened,” Lauziere said. “It was always ‘player of the year,’ but moving it to the Travis Roy Award, now it’s even more recognized, kind of like in (high school) football they have the (Fitzpatrick) award. So putting a name to it was pretty fitting.”

Roy is now a motivational speaker and the face of a foundation that bears his name that helps raise money for spinal cord injury research.

“Obviously, when I first heard about it it was a neat thing, and I hate to sound cliche, but I was honored,” Roy said. “It was a very just neat thing. For me, truthfully, it’s one of those things as I get older the more I appreciate it. It’s very cool to have.

“It’s really gratifying, and it just makes me proud to have my name on an award like that.”

Roy was a player that Toussaint not only played against during their youth hockey days, but also played with. That made winning the award the first year Roy’s name was attached to it that much more special for both.

“It put a smile on my face, I can tell you that,” said Roy, who was still in a hospital in Atlanta when the first award was handed out. “It was really cool to not only know Brian, and to have played with him, but also … respect his abilities.”

Not an easy choice

Toussaint had stiff competition for the award. He was one of four finalists in all, alongside Washuk, Lauziere (who went on to play at the University of Southern Maine and is now the women’s hockey coach there), and Mike Cohen of Deering High School.

“Excellent players. All great players,” Toussaint said. “I didn’t feel that it was a guaranteed shoe-in by any means, whatsoever. Just being one of the (finalists), I was happy to just be there.”

But Toussaint, who Lauziere called “a gifted offensive player” and who Washuk said was “a natural goal-scorer,” was the deserving winner.

“He was a great player,” Lauziere said. “I think either one of us was well-deserving of the award, and I think he at the time deserved it.”

“I can’t remember his exact stats, but I know he had a really, really good year that year,” Washuk said. “And as a player, in that year particularly, I remember him really improving a lot.”

Climbing the ladder

Winning the award gave Toussaint a chance to end his high school career on top, but the next step in his hockey journey was a little more rocky.

An A-level junior hockey team based out of Biddeford, the Great Northern Snow Devils, offered him a chance to keep his playing days going.

It wasn’t the chance he was hoping for.

“The Snow Devils had recruited me fairly heavily, but were never quite, like, pulling the trigger,” Toussaint said. “And we ended up going on a different all-star tournament, and the head coach for them was the head coach for this team that they had put together to go do an all-star function somewhere, and he didn’t play me really that much. It was kind of like he put me way down at the bottom. So we made a decision at that point that by the looks of that it didn’t look so good.”

Playing for the in-state Snow Devils wasn’t meant to be, but another team in the Eastern Junior Hockey League came calling — a start-up team in Walpole, Massachusetts, called the Jr. Stars.

“It was probably one of my most memorable teams because of the fact that it was a start-up team, and nobody knew each other, and it was like this coach and this owner that just wanted to put something together,” Toussaint said.

The band of misfits made the league semifinals both years that Toussaint played.

But more importantly — they never lost to the Snow Devils.

“We played them a couple times a year. We’d play them at their rink and our rink and we beat them every single time. It was a good little payback,” Toussaint said. “They were beating me up pretty good out there. They had that little tenacity, that spite, the fact that I didn’t go there. So they were really up my case for every single game. It was the same guys, too, and they just didn’t like me. It was a good way to rub it back in their faces a little bit, you could say, was winning.”

Toussaint didn’t just win against his nemesis, but he was also productive during his entire tenure with Walpole, for which he was also a captain.

Off to school

Success also meant that he captured the eyes of some college hockey coaches. Toussaint dealt with multiple suitors, but he decided on Plattsburgh State in New York, which was coming off a trip to the NCAA Division III Frozen Four.

“At that time, DII was kind of dismantling and DIII was taking over the position of DII. So Plattsburgh, in that area, was kind of like the top of the DIII,” Toussaint said. “If you’re going to go play DI, and be third- and fourth-line kind of thing, it would be better to go to this other place.”

Toussaint likened Plattsburgh to Lewiston, as far as its love for hockey. With the Cardinals, he got to play in front of 3,000 to 4,000 fans a night, he said.

And they got to see him score.

“It seemed like every team that I went to I scored in the first game,” Toussaint said. “So when things got real serious — so going through my younger years playing hockey, you don’t think about it much — but even getting to high school, I played JV the first year and scored the first game, got points the first game, really helped win. St. Dom’s, once I get to varsity, scored the first game, helped for the win. And then went to the Walpole Stars and first game got a hat trick. And then went to Plattsburgh and the first game got a goal and two assists or something, and I was actually starting as a freshman, and it was great.”

“He was an everyday player, no doubt, and he was a contributor from the get-go here,” said Plattsburgh State coach Bob Emery, who just finished his 29th season as the Cardinals’ head coach.

Getting playing time as a freshman was no small feat for Toussaint.

“The freshman year, had a lot of competing with a lot of the older guys. It was a different level, and four years at that age makes a huge difference,” Toussaint said.

Earning playing time also meant earning the trust of Emery, who he called a disciplinarian, much like Toussaint’s coach at St. Dom’s, the late Bob Boucher.

“I was already very disciplined from my parents. But both were very, very disciplined in one way, shape or form,” Toussaint said. “Bob Boucher was great for the age bracket that he was teaching. He had a real good niche for coming from like five-year-old kids all the way to 18-year-old kids. And that was like his niche. Going to Plattsburgh, same kind of styles, except a totally different game. My coach played in the NHL and my assistant coach played in the AHL. So they had sort of like the experience as well, as far as being out there and competing. But both very much the same kind of structure and discipline.”

“He was a pleasure to have on the team when he was here, that’s for sure,” Emery said. “I run a tight ship, especially back then, and if he wasn’t dedicated or willing, he probably wouldn’t have lasted.”

But last, he did. And he left a lasting impression.

After he was part of a state championship team as a St. Dom’s sophomore, helping the team win the 22nd of a record 24 state titles, he then helped Plattsburgh win the DIII national championship as a junior.

Toussaint called it “pretty incredible” to win titles for both schools.

Real world calling

When Toussaint’s four years were up at Plattsburgh, he knew he had to move on to, well, something. But how that journey included hockey — if at all — was unclear.

“When I left Plattsburgh, one of my coaches played (minor league hockey), and he had gotten me a tryout to go try out. … When I did the research, I think at the time they were paying like 500 bucks a week or something like that. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but I know it was just like, you know, I played hockey, I had a good run with it, had my fair share of injuries. I was 24, 25 at the time, and, you know, learned that the hockey pro life, whether it’s that league or whether it’s another league a little bit step down from that, it’s kind of a dead end.”

Toussaint also had a college degree to fall back on, and it was in a field about which he cared.

“I know his father was into real estate in the Lewiston area heavily when he was a student here,” Emery said. “He was a conscious student, and he always knew what he wanted to do. He always wanted to get into the family business, wanted to get his degree, did well in school, and he was always working towards getting his degree and going to work for the family business.”

Toussaint then joined his family’s real estate business full-time. It was something he had done during summers while in college, learning more each year.

He then branched off on his own, and invested “in other places.” That’s where his own business, Toussaint Property Management, came from, and that’s what he’s been doing for almost two decades.

That also meant an end to a two-decade life in hockey.

“I kind of disconnected from it,” Toussaint admitted. “I ended up starting working 70 to 80 hours a week to try to build a secure future. So I kind of lost touch with a lot of it. I keep up through my dad. He keeps up quite a bit with just about everywhere that I played at. So I kind of keep up with that. I’d like to keep up with it more, just I find myself pushing myself to the limit, no matter what it is.”

Once, that meant pushing the limits in hockey. Then, in real estate.

Now, it’s his family.

Toussaint’s daughter has just started skating, but he’s not pushing her to follow in his footsteps — not yet, anyway.

She doesn’t know much about hockey — or that her dad was once a star player — other than what other people have told her.

“I’d like to see her get into it,” Toussaint said. “I know it’s a hefty commitment, but whatever she goes with, I’ll go with.”

Maybe that could pull Toussaint back into the game, perhaps as a youth coach or an involved hockey parent.

That remains to be seen.

For now, a tall, shiny, hockey-playing figurine and a handful of other mementos are all that connect him to the hockey player he once was.

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