Even old dogs can surprise with new tricks

There was once a time that Phoenix Coyotes' defenseman Adrian Aucoin was better recognized by a nickname that now, come to think of it, is rather harsh in today's context that now makes only discreet mention of everything past a certain part of hockey players' anatomy as "lower body"...

Yes. Adrian Agroin.

The former Chicago Blackhawks' captain lived through some of the more unfortunate seasons of that franchise, the ones predating the Toewses and the Kanes and the...well, fanbase. Foggy now are the days where they took up the basement of the league, but he was there. He soaked up most of the blame for the two years that followed the lockout and his highly-publicized stint with the Islanders, injury after injury taking him down (tsn.ca lists the famous groin twelve times, with a season-ending shoulder surgery for size). In the off-season of 2007, he found himself moving on happily to Calgary where a fanbase that found itself newly missing Roman Hamrlik and Brad Stuart due to free agency looked on with skepticism at Aucoin's 4-million dollar salary, that is until he proved himself as one of the steadier members of the back end for the Flames. For one thing, his rocket from the point had a lot better aim than Hamrlik's, and another, his experience provided both a helping hand to minutes-eater Robyn Regehr and a fair amount of tutelage for the younger defensemen of the team.

However, in somewhat of an ironic twist, it was the signing of another big-time contract--Jay Bouwmeester's, that forced the veteran blueliner out of the Flames' mold. Thankfully, he didn't have to look too far for an option that someone of his years was better suited to. And while the Coyotes were definitely not the most conventional pick of the Western Conference at the time, we all know how that changed.

In addition to reuniting with former teammates Matthew Lombardi, Jim Vandermeer and Ed Jovanovski, Aucoin has once again helped a young defensive corps find its legs in Phoenix. A unit that has, as of this moment, proven responsible for 28% of the offense. Alone, Aucoin has 25 points, already surpassing the total amount of times his name found its way on the scoresheet in his Chicago years.

That's actually not what's racking up so much attention lately in his case. That has more to do with the more "invisible" scoring.

Mr. Clutch, the Closer, whatever you want to call him (he'll take anything over that old nickname, I'll bet), has reinvented himself as the new (or the not so new, given the chronology separating the two) Jussi Jokinen of the Western Conference. In the Coyotes' recent trips to the shootout, almost all of which have gone past the traditional 6-shooters mark, Aucoin has sealed the deal on the last four. Not only is he 4/4, he's brought himself an unexpected but welcome reputation as the difference-maker.

"I just try to keep it simple… I never want to deke because I don’t want to lose the puck. I never want to get in too close because I don’t want to get poke-checked," he says. "So, I just try to shoot it and not embarrass myself."

Only the opposition has been embarrassed so far. Not bad for a journeyman who's gotten to the point in his career where any strange feat of accomplishment gets more of a nudge and a smile, with an eventual crack always themed along the lines of how "experience" is another word for "old."

The experience at hand isn't something old for Aucoin at all, and while the means of the shootout to close out important matchups isn't necessarily the most preferable, if someone like him is able to have a hand in it, the Yotes don't have to fear too much for their chances. That is, unless the pressure gets to him.

"It's been a joke but now [...], things are starting to get serious," Aucoin commented after the third time, last Wednesday night against the Vancouver Canucks.

It leaves a heavier reputation to handle, for sure, but it's definitely better to have than one for being constantly on the shelf.