GLENDALE, Ariz. - Adrian Aucoin and his ancient shin pads have patience.
Since he left Boston University in 1992 to join the Canadian national team, the 38-year-old Phoenix Coyotes defenceman has waited two long decades to perform in his first Stanley Cup conference final.
By our count, Aucoin played in 1,393 games before he suited up for his first game in the West final in Los Angeles against the Kings on Sunday, a 2-0 win to pull Phoenix within 3-1 in the series. Game 5 is set for Jobing.Com Arena on Tuesday.
Aucoin has performed in 123 games for the Canadian senior and junior teams, 117 AHL regular season and playoff games, 20 more for MoDo in Sweden during the lockout, and Sunday was his 1,134th NHL regular season and postseason game.
Sure, he has played in an Olympics, a world junior tournament and a world championship, but in the AHL and NHL - and even in Sweden - Aucoin never had advanced the past the first round of the playoffs until this spring.
There were close calls with the New York Islanders, Calgary Flames and the Coyotes two years ago, but disappointments in Game 7s in the first round. Then, Aucoin helps the Coyotes earn a spot in the conference final, but he wasn't healthy enough to play until Sunday's big victory.
"You ask any pro athlete, there is nothing worse than sitting on the sidelines, especially at this time of year, and I waited longer than most for this chance," said Aucoin, who has been hindered by groin problems the past six weeks and had not played for two weeks before Game 4. "It was amazing to finally get out there."
Aucoin remarked that he felt rusty at first on Sunday, but it was clear the Coyotes benefited from his poise, even though he left the game after three shifts in the third period. He remains hopeful that he will don his 12-year-old shin pads, that he continues to wear because they're comfortable, and play on Tuesday.
"I have kind of waited a while, so this has been nice," Aucoin said.
The native of Nepean, Ont. was no sure bet when the Vancouver Canucks drafted him in the fifth round in 1992. After his stint on the national team and some time in the minors, Aucoin finally became a full-time NHLer with the Canucks in 1996-97. He survived Mike Keenan's doghouse in Vancouver, scored a club record 23 goals for a defenceman for Keenan and his replacement Marc Crawford in 1998-99, and became the league's ice-time leader a few seasons later with the New York Islanders.
Three years ago, the Coyotes became Aucoin's seventh NHL team and he has loved his time with Phoenix. He doesn't play the minutes he did earlier in his career, but he still is a big contributor to the team's success, including a transition in which he started to be the Coyotes go-to guy for shootouts.
"It's been great, even going back to when I originally signed here," Aucoin . "At the time [he signed with the Coyotes, Wayne] Gretzky was still the coach, but when I got here we had no coach. It's come full circle, but it's been pretty awesome.
"Everything changes. When you're young you're just happy to be there. Then you realize you have to do a lot more to contribute all the time. Then I had all those years, in which I played all those minutes and was a lot more involved. Now I get less minutes and I'm mentoring a couple of you guys. But every step has been fun."
Who knows what Aucoin's future is after this season. He is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. But for now, the Coyotes know they have a better chance with Aucoin in the lineup.
"You have to give him credit," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "It was killing him being out. Jumping back in I thought he gave us some solid minutes [on Sunday].
"He's one of those guys who is a solid, veteran player. When you put him in situations in a game, he's not going to get spooked by anything. He's going to come and give you solid minutes."
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