Keith Aucoin is one of the all-time great AHLers, and at age 33 he’s proving he can still play with the NHL’s top prospects.
Aucoin had a four-point game and Ben Scrivens made 30 saves as the Toronto Marlies defeated the St. John’s IceCaps 4-2 in American Hockey League action Saturday afternoon at Ricoh Coliseum.
Aucoin had a empty-net goal to go with three assists, while Spencer Abbott, Ryan Hamilton and Simon Gysbers scored the other goals for Toronto (17-9-2).
With Mike Zigomanis and Nazem Kadri out with injuries, Aucoin was centring Toronto’s top line between Abbott and Hamilton. Marlies coach Dallas Eakins could tell the line was going early and relied on the trio throughout the game.
“We really had to rely on them a lot tonight, because we had a lot of forwards in a really bad funk,” Eakins said. “They played a lot of minutes, but they’re responsible defensively.
“‘Hammy’ lied down and blocked a shot with his face. Aucoin and Spencer Abbott are really great at managing the puck and they’re smart in their own end, too.”
With his three assists, Aucoin passed Oklahoma City Barons rookie defenceman — and Edmonton Oilers top prospect — Justin Schultz for first in the AHL with 26 assists. And earlier this week he became just the 11th AHLer to reach 800 points.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” Aucoin said. “Any time you’re in the top 10 of any league in goals, assists, points, it’s a great accomplishment no matter what league it is. I’ve played with a lot of guys who’ve helped me out.
“I feel like a can play another six years, so we’ll see what happens when it’s over.”
The win moved the Marlies into a tie with Abbotsford atop the North Division, pending the Heat’s game against the Rockford IceHogs on Saturday night.
Raymond Sawada and Ben Maxwell had the goals for St. John’s (15-15-1), while Eddie Pasquale stopped 23 shots in defeat.
The loss put St. John’s in danger of dropping into last place in the Atlantic Division if the Manchester Monarchs won their game against the Portland Pirates on Saturday night.
The IceCaps dominated the first period, outshooting Toronto 12-5 and taking a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
Sawada opened the scoring at 15:14 just as Korbinian Holzer’s holding penalty expired. Zach Redmond took a wrist shot from the point that Sawada deflected in for his seventh of the season.
“In between the first and second period, I never said a word to them,” Eakins said. “I knew our room would handle it. I didn’t let [assistant coaches] Gord [Dineen] or Derek [King] go in. It was silence from the coaches and they played better after the first period.
“They were going to handle it. They knew where they were at. I heard them talking on the bench. They were saying the right things. They just weren’t quite there yet. We made the right call letting them dictate what was going to go on in the second and third periods.”
Despite being outshot 12-9 in the second, the Marlies came away with a pair of goals to take the lead into the final frame.
Toronto got on the board at 15:02 when Aucoin made a cross-ice pass to Abbott, who snapped a shot top corner on the short side past Pasquale.
“‘Abbs’ made a great shot for the first goal, and that was important because we weren’t playing that well up until that point,” Aucoin said. “We needed a spark, and we turned the game around after that.”
It was just Abbott’s second goal of the season, but he’s been a point-per-game player, with 12 points in the 12 games he’s played in.
“He has a skill level that is very high,” Eakins said. “He has that really low panic when he has the puck and seems to always make the right play.
“Every night, now, it seems like he has one or two points.”
It looked like Toronto had taken a 2-1 lead later in the period when Nicolas Deschamps scored off a goalmouth scramble. It was ruled a goal by the referee, but was overturned on review because the puck didn’t cross the goal line.
But the Marlies did eventually take the lead with a little more than three minutes to play in the period. Off the rush, Jesse Blacker stopped just inside the IceCaps blue-line and found a streaking Hamilton, who tipped the puck past Pasquale.
It was Hamilton’s 12th goal of the season to lead the team.
Toronto made it a 3-1 game with Patrice Cormier off on a five-minute major for boarding defenceman Mike Kostka. Carter Ashton’s shot was stopped by Pasquale, but Gysbers charged in from the blue-line to backhand in the rebound.
St. John’s pulled Pasquale with more than two minutes to play and managed to make it 3-2 on a goal by Maxwell at 17:53. But Aucoin sealed the game with an empty-netter a minute later.
The Marlies’ next game is Boxing Day at Air Canada Center when they host the Hamilton Bulldogs. The IceCaps are off until Dec. 28 when they visit Hamilton.
“Our guys will be excited to play in the big rink,” Eakins said. “It’ll be good for them to get a taste of a very large crowd.”
Notes: Jake Gardiner missed his sixth straight game with a head injuryaAnnounced attendance was 5,991.