Adrian Aucoin vividly remembers when the Blue Jackets put a serious dent in the playoff hopes of the Phoenix Coyotes.
It was just five months ago when Aucoin, then a veteran blueliner in the desert, took note of the way the Blue Jackets approached the tail end of their season. There were no secrets; Columbus didn't have much to play for during the final 41 games, but the club's leaders brought the team together and set some attainable goals.
Standing in the way were the playoff-hungry Coyotes, who were locked in an intense race for the Pacific Division title with Los Angeles and Dallas. The Blue Jackets gave Phoenix everything it could handle, winning Mar. 3 at Jobing.com Arena and again three days later at Nationwide Arena, the second time chasing Mike Smith from the net just five minutes into the game.
Those games stood out to Aucoin as he weighed a contract offer from the Blue Jackets on July 1. Their record was a bit misleading, Aucoin said, and with a few changes the team could get back on track.
"They played really well against us," Aucoin said. "I have some very good impressions of them. Their record wasn't as strong as it could have been. I think a lot of that was due to the start they had with injuries and suspensions. At the end of the year, they were a really good team.
"I know the coaching staff just from talking to them, and I'm really impressed with the way everything has been going so far. Even though I've only been here (a short time), the phone calls, the people, the players I've talked to...it's been very impressive."
At 39 years of age and with over 1,000 games of NHL experience, Aucoin knows his role has changed and only a certain number of teams would come calling during free agency. But he wants to make one thing clear: he can be a mentor and an example for the young players on the club, but he can still play the game, too.
Leading by example goes beyond the on-ice happenings, Aucoin said. Players like John Moore, Ryan Murray andTim Erixonall have bright NHL futures and were drafted high because of their skill, but in order to establish themselves at the highest level, there's a long list of things that need to be done every single day -- and Aucoin wants to be the guy to show them how it's done.
"I had some good veteran teammates and veteran defensemen that helped me out a lot," Aucoin said of his early days in the NHL. "I think a lot of it just comes down to being consistent, being accountable...and as a young guy, it's always tough because you're so excited to be here. You forget about the little things that got you here and you realize how important it is to show up every night and work hard.
"I don't know these kids too well, but when you're drafted that high and have already established yourself as that good of a player, especially in this day and age you know what it takes. These guys are way ahead of the game."
He also knows that today's NHL is a young man's game, and the younger players are going to play a significant role for the Blue Jackets both now and in the years to come. Aucoin echoed what many of his new teammates have said recently, that the Blue Jackets will be a competitive, hard-working group that plays for each other on a nightly basis.
While he prefers to focus on his future with the Blue Jackets and not talk too much about his time in Phoenix, Aucoin feels there are many similarities between the two clubs and how they have to play in order to be successful.
"(Phoenix) didn't have any big names and we were always pegged to be one of the lower teams," Aucoin said. "You need everyone to be a part of it. I think Columbus, with the way they started the season, when you start losing games you start to question yourself, your confidence goes out and you're not sure if you can win.
"If you can approach every game knowing you can win, it's definitely doable. The players here are good guys, they work hard and that's a real good start. It comes down to accountability, doing what the coach says, and playing together."
And though he's not the type to come in to a situation and tear down walls, Aucoin hopes his extensive experience is something the team's leadership group can draw upon.
"I don't think I'm one of those guys who will say 'I'm coming in to fix something' because I really don't think there's much that needs to be fixed," Aucoin said. "I'm just a guy that's played on a few teams, played a lot of games and I think I've done okay for myself.
"Sometimes, young guys aren't sure what's right and what's wrong, and that's where I can provide a little direction. Hopefully I just lead by example."