SUN Hockey Pool

Aucoin is adapting

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:44 AM ET

DENVER -- Those space-aged graphite composite hockey sticks most players these days use cost big money.

Seeing as the NHL and its players are in a joint venture when it comes to the revenue, you gotta credit Adrian Aucoin's thinking for why he plays with the old-fashioned wooden model.

"Hey, only about 30 bucks a stick. I'm all about the budget," he joked.

Well, not really.

The 34-year old Calgary Flames defenceman said it's a case of habit.

"I'm too old to change," he said.

Actually, it's obvious he's able to adapt.

Through the first few games of the campaign, the newcomer admittedly struggled. A new team, new system and new surroundings had something to do with it, but Aucoin had his down moments.

"His instincts had to be sharpened," said Flames head coach Mike Keenan. "I think his play has improved consistently since the beginning of the season.

"I think he still has room for improvement, but he works at his game and he's getting the ice time to improve his game."

That need to improve is not unlike the rest of the team that's dropped its last two outings heading into tonight's clash in Denver.

At least there are noticeable changes from Aucoin.

"There was definitely an adjustment period, just learning things and getting my game back to where I want it to be," he said. "I've gone from a man-to-man (system) pretty much my whole career. Back when the clutch-and-grab was going, you had your guy and stuck with him. Now they really like having the one d-man in front -- and you stick to your side.

"The first few games, I was running around more than I should have been."

There are other elements Aucoin had to change. With the Flames, the defensive system relies more on goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff to stop the first shot and defencemen are to be prepared to clear away rebounds.

Another factor is his teaming with Dion Phaneuf. Aucoin started the season with Robyn Regehr, a logical match since it gave the team two pairings with both a defensive defender and one with more offensive upside.

However, his game has steadily improved since being placed with Phaneuf.

"Obviously from Robyn to Dion, there's definitely a difference because Dion's a spark. He goes and does everything, so you want to be smarter," said Aucoin.

"With Robyn, he was the stalwart, steady guy, so I could be the one running around everywhere."

Aucoin is finally back to 100% after a pair of disappointing injury-filled seasons in Chicago, where he missed a combined 72 games.

"You create just horrible habits for yourself when you come back from injuries, just trying to play that self-preservation role because you're not playing the hockey you want to play," Aucoin said. "I think coming into training camp ... there's always that bit of tentativeness in a guy's play. That's one of the reasons I probably didn't start off as well, just making sure the body's fine."

Which it has been, and there has been another benefit: Aucoin's point production -- one goal and seven assists through 14 games -- is back to the solid pace he hasn't seen since before the NHL lockout.

He's glad to be back on the scoresheet with some regularity, but isn't overly excited.

"I don't know about putting much stock into it, but I don't know one player who doesn't like getting points," he said.


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