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  • Wednesday, September 22, 1999

    Gift keeps on giving

    By ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun
      On the heels of a breakthrough season that saw him lead all NHL defenceman with 23 goals, Vancouver's Adrian Aucoin was asked last spring to make a small investment in a well-known hockey franchise named Team Canada.
     Drawing a salary of $850,000 (Cdn.) and optimistic about his hockey future, he thought nothing of doing what he could to save a national team program that acted as a springboard for his five-year NHL career.
     He wrote a cheque and committed to three years of continued support.
     Considering the perilous financial situation of the program, which needed to raise $150,000 to continue, there were obviously no expectations he'd receive a return on his investment.
     He was wrong.
     With contract talks coming to a grinding halt on the eve of his sixth NHL season with the Canucks, the 26-year-old restricted free agent is now finding his close association with Team Canada paying dividends once again.
     In a homecoming of sorts, Aucoin flew to Calgary late last week to join a national squad that earned a stay of execution due to donations like his.
     "I didn't make an investment in the national team to get money back -- I just wanted to pay back what they've given me," said Aucoin, who wore the Canadian maple leaf Thursday for the first time since the 1994 Olympics when Canada won a silver medal.
     "This program was a big stepping stone for me and obviously they're coming through again for me now. In proportion to what we make (in the NHL), giving a bit back to the national team isn't a big chunk. It's the least I could do."
     Reunited with coach Tom Renney, who guided him for two years on the national team and two years in Vancouver, Aucoin hopes, with all due respect, his stint in Calgary is short.
     However, despite finishing third in the league with 18 powerplay goals (one third of the Canucks' powerplay output), it appears management's priorities are focused on signing another free-agent defenceman, Ed Jovanovski.
     "Right now, to be honest, I don't know what's going on with Vancouver," said Aucoin, who has left negotiations to agent Larry Kelly. "They're not putting much value on my play or my presence with the team and that's what's frustrating. I've been there the last (five) years, played well and had a breakthrough season last year. It's not like I'm a big question mark but obviously they've had more progress with Ed because we've had none. I'm just going to stay in shape so if something happens I'll be ready to go."
     Before adding Aucoin to his roster, Renney called Vancouver GM Brian Burke for his blessings. He may have to make a similar call soon as rumours persist Jovanovski may also fly west to join the boys at Father Bauer Arena.
     Currently, Aucoin is simply skating with -- and not being paid to play for -- the Nats. A decision will be made today as to whether or not he'll travel to Houston with the team tomorrow for two exhibition games against the IHL's Aeros.
     At that point, he would pull out a high risk insurance policy and may find himself on a payroll that he is helping fund.
     A fifth-round selection by Vancouver in the 1992 draft, Aucoin went on to win gold for Canada at the 1993 World Juniors. He has since developed slowly, spending parts of his first three pro seasons in the AHL.
     However, he credits his national team experience for improving his speed, skill and confidence. He's seeking a multi-year deal for more than the league average of $1.4 million US, and it appears the Canucks are in no hurry to add him to a roster which already includes Mattias Ohlund, Murray Baron and hotshot youngster Bryan Allen.
     "It's probably helping them that they have some guys that can play, but 18 powerplay goals are hard to come by," said Aucoin.
     In the meantime, he'll continue reaping the benefits of a program he's indebted to. Figuratively and monetarily.

    VANCOUVER CANUCKS



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