Originally created 02/20/01

Lynx center has traveled rough road



Working on his 13th team in six pro seasons, Augusta Lynx center Paul Vincent certainly qualifies as a hockey journeyman.

From St. John's, Newfoundland, to Little Rock, Ark., and a moving van full of cities in between, the quest to make it to the National Hockey League has taken Vincent on a long, sometimes bumpy road.

But the unforgiving world of minor-pro hockey is nothing compared to the treacherous road he once faced.

Paul Vincent was a homeless baby.

"My life didn't get off to the greatest of starts, but it's turned out all right," said the 6-foot-5, 235-pounder, acquired by the Lynx on Jan. 27 from the Arkansas RiverBlades for center Russ Guzior. "Sometimes, you're dealt a rough set of cards. You just have to make the most of them."

Vincent is making the most of his first few weeks with the Lynx. Augusta is 7-1-1 in his first nine games with the club and looks to extend its franchise-record winning streak to eight games tonight against the Roanoke Express.

"I think it's a great trade for us," Lynx coach Jim Burton said. "He's off to a good start."

But Vincent's life got off to a horrific start.

Vincent was born in Utica, N.Y., in 1975 to a mother of mixed race who, Vincent said, had always wanted a black family. She named him Tyrone and eventually grew displeased with her baby's light-skinned features.

When he was six months old, Vincent said, his mother abandoned him on the streets.

His big brother, 4-year-old Curtis, had darker skin and was therefore acceptable to his mother, Vincent said. But even at that tender age, Curtis knew his baby brother needed someone to take care of him. So Curtis left home too, a preschooler on the streets caring for and protecting Tyrone.

"He pretty much saved my life," Vincent said.

He and Curtis spent their days wandering the city, begging for food, taking refuge in abandoned buildings. Doctors later would come to the conclusion that a hungry Tyrone ate lead paint chips and that the high levels of lead in his system probably were the cause of his learning disability, which made school another great challenge for him.

The story reads like a made-for-TV movie script. It's all too real for Vincent.

"What happened, it's probably the best thing that could have happened to me," Vincent said. "What if my mother didn't throw me out? Where would I be right now? We came from an all-black neighborhood. I'd probably be in a gang right now, dealing drugs or something. Or I'd be dead."

After six months on the streets, the boys were taken in by a Utica woman, who contacted a friend in Boston who was a social worker. The boys spent the next three years in an orphanage until they were adopted by a Boston couple, Paul and Sylvia Vincent.

From the very beginning, it was apparent that young Tyrone was destined for bigger and better things.

He took his new dad's name, becoming Paul Vincent Jr. He also acquired his dad's passion for hockey. At the time, Paul Sr., a former Boston police officer, ran a powerskating school at a suburban Boston rink. At age 4, the son began skating with the father. Young Paul has been shredding ice ever since.

By the time he was 16, he was inundated with scholarship offers from major college programs.

But his learning problems rendered them useless. He eventually dropped out of high school and headed to Canada to join the major junior ranks. In 1993, he landed in the Western Hockey League with Seattle and was drafted that year by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the sixth round of the NHL entry draft.

Eight years and 13 teams later, Vincent still is two steps away from his goal and knows the window to the NHL is fast closing.

That's OK with him now.

Vincent remains close with the only father he's ever known, Paul Vincent Sr., who is now the skills coach for the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning. He enjoyed a wonderful relationship with his adoptive mother, Sylvia, before her death in 1997, and he remains close with his brother Curtis, who lives in Cape Cod, Mass.

The traveling hockey road show now includes his wife, Leslie - the couple met while Vincent was playing for the ECHL's Peoria Rivermen in 1996-97 - and a dog named Molson.

"I'm very excited about being here in Augusta and playing for Jim Burton," said Vincent, who was recruited by former Lynx coach Scott MacPherson over the summer but did not sign. "I'm definitely glad I'm here now as opposed to the beginning of the year. Jim's helped turn the team around. He's tried to trade for me since he got the job, which I'm glad about."

The Lynx certainly are glad to have another point-a-game player for the stretch run. Though he reportedly wore out his welcome with other teams, Burton says he's seen nothing but positives from Vincent.

"It does surprise a bit, the things I've heard about him, because he seems like a real nice guy, and I've been very happy with him," said Burton, who coached against Vincent in the Western Pro League. "He's a big guy, and I think at times it might look like he's not working hard, but neither does Mario Lemieux."

Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425 or robm99@hotmail.com.