Adrian Aucoin’s path to Long Island in his own words was definitely interesting.
Aucoin, 45, who now resides in Illinois, remembers being a member of the Vancouver Canucks and being dealt to the Tampa Bay Lightning before the 2001 NHL Trade Deadline. Once he arrived in Tampa, then g.m. Rick Dudley assured him that he was one of the three untouchables that would not be dealt again along with Nikolai Khabibulin and Vincent Lecavalier. Aucoin — behind Khabibulin — was the second-highest paid player on the Bolts once the season finished and seemed like he was going to make Tampa his home for the future.
During his summer training, Aucoin’s wife Caroline felt a funny feeling.
“She told me she had this weird sense that I was going to be traded,” Aucoin said.
Aucoin was taken aback by that, knowing he just talked to John Tortarella — the head coach at the time — and Dudley, who reaffirmed that he was going to be a part of the clubs’ future moving forward. Then on the day of the draft, Aucoin got a surprise call from Dudley telling him he was being traded.
“Just before he hung up the phone,” Aucoin said, “I asked where did I get traded to? He said the Islanders.” Aucoin was traded to the Isles along with Alexander Kharitonov for goaltender Mathieu Biron and a 2002 second-rounder. “Okay, I think Tampa was in 29th place in the league and the Islanders were in 30th place in the league,” he remembered saying at the time (The Isles finished with 52 points in 2000-01, Tampa Bay finished with 58). “How the hell did this just happen?” A couple years later, Aucoin said he ran into Dudley who told him the trade was made for financial reasons.
Now apart of the organization, Aucoin started thinking how he was going to handle his new situation. He had been in the league six years already, and all he could recall about the Islanders was the old Marriott Hotel and walking from there to the Coliseum in the freezing cold. Just going off of those images, Aucoin thought the transition was going to be brutal. Then his negative feelings quickly changed to positive.
Two days after Aucoin became an Islander, g.m. Mike Milbury made a big move acquiring Michael Peca from the Buffalo Sabres. Not long thereafter, Milbury traded for star forward Alexei Yashin. Aucoin changed his tune seeing that his new team was making a push bringing in players to improve the team. When he arrived at training camp for that first season, Aucoin had already had a good relationship with goaltender Garth Snow. And it was Snow who put in a good word with new bench boss Peter Laviolette about his new d-man.
Aucoin got his chance to impress Laviolette quickly when fellow d-man Kevin Haller had a rough start and eventually ended up hurting his groin. Haller ended up needing groin surgery and never played in the NHL again. Laviolette began to see Aucoin’s progression. “I went from 15, to 17, to over 20 minutes and so forth,” Aucoin said. Seeing his minute go up also, Aucoin’s play was key to the scorching start the Islanders got off to in the 01-02′ season — 9-0-1-1 in their first 11 games.
Aucoin: “It was awesome because we had a bunch of riff-raff type of players. We had guys like Peca, Shawn Bates, Claude LaPointe. Guys that weren’t NHL All-Stars, but guys who worked hard. Everybody was a good guy. Peter Laviolette was ahead of his time. Lavy was like ‘we want to skate, we want to be offensive, fun and enjoyable’. Getting Ozzie (Chris Osgood) off waivers was a real turning point because he was the guy with the Isles compared to being the B-guy in Detroit. He came out of his shell here and became a pretty damn good leader.”
Following their hot start, Aucoin and the Isles began to roll. They quickly became a team to fear in the East. That was do in part to the chemistry Aucoin formed with Kenny Jonsson. Jonsson, Aucoin believes, is the most underrated d-man to ever play the game. “The steadiest and the smartest. He was the reason I did so good with the Islanders,” Aucoin said with enthusiasm. Aucoin was also quick to point out how solid the backend was with Roman Hamrlik, Eric Cairns, Radek Martinek, and Sven Butenschon.
By season’s end, the Islanders notched 96 points — second most in the Atlantic Division — and Aucoin had tied his career-high in points with 34. Securing their first playoff berth in eight seasons and giving the franchise a rebirth gave Aucoin and his mates a thrill.
“It was awesome. I think it was two-folded because there was a core group of players who were there one or two years prior and it was not enjoyable playing on the Island. The team wasn’t good, neither was the facility.”
“And then all of a sudden, we have new guys, and the core guys — good guys to be exact — come to life, and then the fans are there. The building, because it’s a smaller rink, was loud and the place was rocking. We had a grinding, fun team. So that whole style got everyone involved all the time.”
Now back in the postseason, the Islanders were tasked with defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs to try to advance to the second round of the playoffs. The Leafs were a powerhouse that season — finishing second in the Northeast Division. Still to this day, you ask anyone who watched that series, played in that series, or coached in that series, and they’ll tell you it was the most physical, nasty series they’ve ever taken part in.
Aucoin: “By far the most physical series I’ve ever been apart of, but definitely the most fun. Nothing even compares. It was wide open. Lots of scoring, lots of hitting, lots of trash talk, and a lot of dirty play.”
“It was exactly what you think playoffs should be like. Two teams that absolutely despised each other. It carried on the ice and off the ice. It was epic.”
Before the team even took the ice for game three at the Coliseum, Aucoin recalled the locker room shaking because of how loud the fans were. Aucoin pictured it like it was yesterday; Seeing guys getting I.V.’s after every game, seeing Darcy Tucker take out Peca — captain at the time — after Tucker kept saying he was going to take his knee out and Shayne Corson trying to kick Cairns with his skates.
The Isles would lose that memorable series in seven games, but the foundation was there for Aucoin and the team to be really good in the coming years.
In his next two seasons, Aucoin would set career highs in points with 35 and 44. He was awarded his first All-Star nomination in the 2003-04 season. The Islanders would make the playoffs again both those seasons, but fail to get past the first round. Where Aucoin credits his success those two years is the style of play of the team, the great relationships he built with Laviolette and Steve Stirling, and the mentality that even if he made a mistake, he could go right back out to fix it.
Aucoin also said he was not surprised when the brass decided to part ways with Laviolette after two seasons because of how exit meetings went. But it still didn’t sit well with the 30-year old at the time because he felt that the team was doing something special.
After the 2003-04 season, the owners and the players locked out the entire 2004-05 campaign. In that time, people were unaware that Aucoin went to arbitration seeking a new contract. Him and Milbury went back and forth trying to come to a deal. As the story goes, Aucoin said that he had agreed to a deal that would have kept him an Islander for four more seasons, but ownership wanted to go a different direction. Despite not being able to come to an agreement, Aucoin still values the bond he had with Milbury.
“I love Mike. Love him still to this day. Our kids went to the same preschool. I had a different connection with Mike that goes past hockey. We would see each other once or twice away from the rink and talk for hours” he said.
Aucoin would go on to play another eight seasons after he left Long Island.
After he retired, Aucoin went on to help in player development with the Chicago Blackhawks. He would do that for a few years before stepping down to spend more time with his five kids. But even after leaving nearly 15 years ago, Aucoin still cherishes the time he spent wearing the Islander crest.
“Obviously that first playoff run was amazing. One of the best things about playing there, me, my wife, and my kids fell in love with Long Island. If contract-wise worked out, I would have stayed there hopefully forever.”
“Living in Garden City, I still keep in touch with my neighbors and we still do fantasy football together. It was a cool place to be and live. I still keep it touch with Snowy, Mark Parrish, Cairns (roommates when they played together), Jason Weimer, and Eric Godard.”
One funny story Aucoin reminisced about his time with the team was the so called “Frat House”. The house consisted of Parrish, Cairns, Bates, and Godard with just a living room and four bedrooms in Garden City. Why it so memorable to Aucoin is that the house was so disgusting.
“They had three George Foreman grills and that’s all they knew how to cook with,” he chuckled. “So they would always buy steaks and bring them over to my house and I’d cook for them and bring them some beer. Then when they started playing to rough with the kids, I’d say ‘Okay boys, time to get out'”. Aucoin remembers them saying they had to break their door down a dozen times because they always forget a key.
“After a road trip at three in the morning, they’d break the door down, have it fixed. Break the door down, have it fixed. It was hilarious.”
Today, Aucoin coaches his four youngest kids in hockey. His oldest daughter — the only one who doesn’t play hockey — will be heading to college next fall. His oldest son, Kyle, 16, won nationals the last two years with the Chicago Mission AAA team and is now committed to playing hockey at Harvard. Aucoin’s 14-year old girl and 11-year old boy also play for the Mission, while his nine-year old plays hockey and just about every other sport.
To put it simply, Aucoin keeps busy.
“I’m at the rink way more now than I ever was,” he said jokingly.