Ex-Canuck Adrian Aucoin hasn’t Mess-ed much with shoot-first philosophy
Former Vancouver blueliner embraces leadership role with young Blue Jackets
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s a story straight from Vancouver Canuck folklore, featuring a young defenceman named Adrian Aucoin and the team’s captain, a guy named Mark Messier. Mike Keenan is in it, too.
It was the 1997-98 season and Aucoin was just getting his feet wet in the National Hockey League. Messier, by this time, had already won six Stanley Cups and Keenan had just arrived to replace Tom Renney as coach.
Aucoin had a booming shot from the point and was being encouraged by Keenan to use it at all times. Perhaps encouraged isn’t the correct word. Keenan demanded that Aucoin shoot, shoot and shoot some more.
“I remember trying to pass a couple of times and Mike was going: ‘No, no, that’s not what you’re doing, just make sure you pound it,’ ” Aucoin recalled Thursday. “So we’re in practice one day and I take a one-timer and I hit Messier. I break his shin pad and clearly it hurt him a little bit. So he comes up to me and I am like ‘oh, boy.’ I didn’t know what to think.
“Then he says: ‘OK, great. That’s the only way you’re going to get better. Keep shooting it.’ And I was, like: ‘OK, Mess.’ ”
Aucoin did keep shooting and the following season he scored 23 times, setting a Canucks’ club record for goals by a defenceman that still stands today. He didn’t stay a Canuck forever and was dealt to the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2001 for netminder Dan Cloutier. He has since played for the New York Islanders, Chicago Blackhawks, Calgary Flames and Phoenix Coyotes and is now, at age 39, in his first year as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Despite the many moves, he hasn’t lost his desire to play. He has hauled his five kids, ranging in ages from three to 12, around North America. He and wife Caroline are both from Ottawa but they own homes in Chicago and Scottsdale, Ariz. They are all on board, he says, and loving the ride. Aucoin is making $2.25 million on a one-year contract.
“What drives me? Just showing up at the rink every day is awesome,” he said before the Jackets and Canucks met at Nationwide Arena. “Clearly the one thing you want as you get older and your role diminishes is to still be able to contribute and whatnot at some level. I would love it if I could play high 20 minutes and be a power-play guy but that’s not my role anymore.
“It’s a different gig. We’re a team that is kind of in transition so I am needed for a leadership role. Columbus called me right away on July 1 and we talked about all their young defencemen and how they didn’t have many older guys so it was just a really good fit. Like I said, just coming to the rink today is still as much fun as it was when I was a kid and you can’t knock me for that.”
Nobody is knocking Aucoin, who was drafted 117th overall by the Canucks in 1992. Vancouver’s first pick that June was the immortal Libor Polasek, followed by Mike Peca in the second round. Aucoin has outlasted many other Canuck picks as well and appeared Thursday in his 1,090th regular-season game. He’s in his 17th season.
He also has the distinction of scoring a goal on his first NHL shot, May 3, 1995, in San Jose against Arturs Irbe. He then scored on his first shot in the ’95 playoffs and on his first shot in his one and only all-star game in 2003-04.
“That’s my claim to fame,” he noted, laughing.
Aucoin realizes this season could be it for him but he isn’t yet ready to declare that he’ll be hanging ’em up.
“You know what? It’s literally where I’m at, at the time,” he said. “I have some days where I think I’m completely done and I have some days where I think I could play for another 20 years. So I think it will just be how the season here goes and how the summer goes. Even though I wish I could plan ahead, and my wife wishes I could plan ahead, it’s always tough to do.”
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