The New York Islanders - along with every other NHL team and many other businesses - have temporarily suspended operations due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 Coronavirus. The Center for Disease Control and World Health Organizations have strongly advised the public to practice self-quarantining and avoid close contact and crowds to limit the spread of the virus. But that doesn’t mean we can’t gather in a virtual space and talk about old hockey players.
As long as the Islanders are on pause, we’ll run this series to give folks a place to chat, reminisce, and generally relieve the stress of the times.
When he first suited up for the Islanders, I had no idea who he was. By the time he left, I thought he was indispensable.
The truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle when it comes to Keith Aucoin, the short (5’-8”) and short-time center for the Islanders who came in a wave of waiver pick-ups prior to the lockout truncated 2012-2013 season. He had been playing very well for the Toronto Marlies of the AHL, the latest in a series of stops that had made up his pro hockey career to that point. Undrafted out of Norwich University (uh... what?), he had a bunch of AHL stints and PTOs and played parts of seven seasons for the Hurricanes and Capitals. His most NHL games played in a season was 38 and his max output was five goals and eight assists.
But upon joining the Islanders in January of 2013, he became a regular bottom six center and face-off man. Instead of being buried in the minors, the then 34-year old was taking his puck and running with it, usually in the direction of the other team’s net.
Aucoin wasn’t a star or even really achieved cult hero status outside of a few housebound agoraphobes. But he was exactly what an up-and-coming Islanders team with an eye on an unlikely playoff berth needed; a veteran guy who didn’t panic in his own zone and kept the puck moving in the right ways. His total Islanders career amounted to 41 games, six goals and six assists, but he always seemed to be in the exact spot he needed to be in all the time.
In their playoff series against the Penguins that season, Aucoin only had three assists. But he and Colin McDonald played huge bottom six roles for a team that was essentially one penalty kill away from winning one wild ass round.
After the season, McDonald was signed to an extension and Aucoin was allowed to hit free agency. I remember thinking at the time that this was a huge mistake the Islanders would come to regret. But it didn’t really turn out well for anybody. He signed with the Blues and saw just two NHL games afterward. He spent most of 2013-14 in the AHL again before decamping for Switzerland for a season in the NLA.
I’m sure that one season on The Island meant a lot to him, finally experiencing NHL success and a playoff chase that electrified one of the NHL’s great old arenas. I don’t know if he knows just how many fans he made that season by simply being a reliable everyday player for a team that hadn’t seen too many of those in a long time.