Aucoin's Trip to Conference Finals a Long Time Coming
GLENDALE – Fate has indeed played a cruel joke on Adrian Aucoin.
After 17 years in the National Hockey League and nine trips to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the 38-year-old defenseman had never advanced past the first round. Now, with both Aucoin and the Coyotes advancing to the Western Conference Final for the first time, an injury forced the Ottawa native to the sidelines – forced to watch games he had waited his whole life to play.
"You ask any pro athlete, and there is nothing worse than sitting on the sidelines -- especially at this time of year," Aucoin said. "And I waited longer than most for this chance. It was amazing to finally get out there."
Aucoin got back on the ice for 12-plus minutes on Sunday in Game 4, helping the Coyotes to their first win of the series before the pain of his undisclosed injury forced him to sit out the third period. He was one of several Coyotes to skip Monday's practice and said he wouldn't know until taking a morning skate on Tuesday if he would good for Game 5.
"I'll give it a little twirl tomorrow and see," he said.
But if there is any way he can play, without hurting the team, he wants a bigger taste of his Game 4 experience.
"It was amazing," Aucoin said. "The intensity and speed definitely picked up after going practically two weeks without playing or even practicing at a high level. It was a quick transition that first period. I was a little rusty, but it was a good game to get back into because we definitely controlled the play – it seemed like an easier game to play."
Aucoin has played in 22 playoff games – more than a third of his career total – since signing as a free agent with the Coyotes in the summer of 2009 and playing a big role in the transformation of the team from also-ran to perennial playoff participant.
"It's been great, even going back to when I originally signed here," he said. "At the time (I signed), Wayne Gretzky was the coach. Then I got here and we had no coach (before Dave Tippett was hired during training camp). So, it's pretty awesome the way it's turned out."
His first two years in Phoenix ended with first-round losses to Detroit – continuing a string of one-and-done postseasons that followed him from Vancouver (twice), to the New York Islanders (three times) to Calgary (twice). Three times, his teams reached a Game 7. Three times, that turned out to be the end.
"My first year with the Islanders (2001-02), we took Toronto to Game 7 and I thought that was one of the best years I've even been a part of," Aucoin said. "If we had gotten by them, I don't know how far we would have gone -- we just had one of those teams everyone was afraid to play.
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"My first year in Calgary (2007-08), we had as deep of a team as I've ever played on and we had (goalie Miikka Kiprusoff) playing real good. We took San Jose to seven and lost. I have kind of waited awhile for this."
The Coyotes are hoping he can play Tuesday night. Both David Schlemko and Michael Stone have struggled against the Kings and Aucoin's addition allowed all three defense pairs to play with familiar partners.
"He's a veteran defenseman. He can eat up some minutes for you and is solid with his play," Tippett said after Game 4. "For not playing for probably 10 days, he came in and gave us some solid minutes, a real boost to us."
Aucoin is a free agent at the end of the season. He was limited to 64 games due to injuries, but the Coyotes feel their depth on the blue line is strong with several young players in the pipeline. Aucoin remembers what it was like to be the young gun, playing just one regular season game before being thrust into the playoffs with Vancouver in 1995.
"When you're young, you're just happy you're there," he said. "Then you realized you need to do a lot more and become someone who contributes a lot more. Then you play lots of minutes and are really involved. Now, with less minutes, you have a different role and you're mentoring young kids.
"But every little step has been fun."