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Penguins Aubin turns up intensity in backup role

Sunday, September 23, 2001

By Dave Molinari, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

WILKES-BARRE -- The goal didn't mean much, really.

Having that puck skid over the goal line with a half-second on the clock to put the game into overtime was annoying for just about all concerned, but it wasn't the kind of thing likely to register on the Richter scale of human events.

Jean-Sebastien Aubin
"Go out and have fun, stop goals. That's all I can do."
(Matt Freed, Post-Gazette)

Penguins goalie Jean-Sebastien Aubin didn't see it that way, though. The goal light behind him had barely flickered when Aubin charged out of his crease, howling and gesturing that the goal Hnat Domenichelli of Atlanta had just scored should be disallowed.

It's hard to imagine Aubin could have been any more exasperated -- or animated -- if the incident in question had come at the end of Game 7 in a Stanley Cup final.

"I lost it for a minute," Aubin said, smiling.

His protests were ignored -- as much as they could be, anyway -- but a few days after the fact, Aubin still insisted that he had a valid complaint.

"I had it covered, and he took a couple of whacks at my glove, then pushed me into the net with it and it went in," he said. "I thought [the referee] would blow the whistle, and he never did.

"I didn't want to go overtime, and with .5 seconds and the guy not blowing the whistle, I was ... but it was just a preseason game."

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He's correct, of course, and few people probably remember the Penguins and Thrashers played to a 4-4 tie at Philips Arena that night. And fewer care.

What matters is not that Domenichelli completed a hat trick with a suspect goal in a meaningless mid-September game, but rather the way Aubin reacted to it, the tangible evidence that his competitive fires have been stoked.

"It's a good sign," said Gilles Meloche, the Penguins' goaltending coach. "You can tell that, mentally, he's there. That he can do the job, that he wants to do the job."

Aubin has been the Penguins' most impressive goalie for most of training camp, although he had some rough moments in the Penguins' 5-2 loss in Toronto Friday, when he stopped just 9 of 12 shots and seemed to be guilty of a few technical lapses.

Regardless of how he performs in camp, Aubin is scheduled to begin the season as the backup to No. 1 goalie Johan Hedberg, whom General Manager Craig Patrick anointed as the Penguins' go-to guy in the off-season.

That wasn't a major surprise, given Hedberg's dazzling work for much of the stretch drive and playoffs in the spring, but still could have been deflating for Aubin.

Instead, he took that news pretty much in stride, opting to focus on handling whatever role he is given, not on the details of his job description.

"I'm not thinking about that right now," Aubin said. "There's nothing I can control about that. I'm not making those decisions. All I can do is go out, have fun and do a lot of things that make things easier.

"All I can do is my job. Go out and have fun, stop goals. That's all I can do."

Accepting his situation has to be easier for Aubin because he has a partner with whom he gets along well. He and Hedberg have had adjacent stalls in the First Union Arena locker room for the past week, and they've regularly exchanged tips and small talk while preparing for practices.

Aubin, who was tormented by Tom Barrasso during their time together with the Penguins a few years back, appreciates having a partner with whom he has such good rapport.

"We don't have any problems," he said. "We talk all the time and enjoy ourselves. That [difficulty with Barrasso] is all in the past. Johan's a great person, and we get along pretty good."

Had the Penguins not acquired Hedberg from San Jose March 12, Aubin almost certainly would have been the incumbent No. 1 this fall. As it is, he's still in a fairly prominent spot for someone who just turned 24 in the off-season.

"Seven or eight years ago, [goalies] wouldn't come into the league until they were 24 or 25," Meloche said. "It's a good competition. We're lucky we have two good goalies here."

Whether Hedberg can be as good as he was a few months back remains to be seen; after all, he set an awfully high standard in March, April and May.

Aubin, conversely, almost certainly should be better. Not just because he is older, but because he has begun to take a genuine interest in conditioning. He doesn't have a workout tape on the market just yet, but it's no longer news when he spotted in an off-ice workout.

"I think I started after my [knee] surgery last year and never stopped," Aubin said. "I just go in there and do little things that make you feel better.

"I'm not getting myself [in condition] to be in a marathon, but just trying to get in good shape, and it's going to be much easier for me on the ice if I do that. ... I feel better. I'm not tired much. I just feel better overall."

Again, Meloche believes the change in Aubin's approach to working out indicates a step forward in his development.

"I think that's a big difference," he said. "Everything always came easy for him. He always had a lot more talent than everybody else and didn't need to work at his game. But, when you get to this level, if you don't work, you hurt your own game. Plus, you [upset] your own players."

Aubin certainly hasn't given the Penguins much reason to be upset with him this fall. And while he hasn't convinced them to give him the No. 1 job, either, Meloche is among those convinced Aubin is destined to fill that role at some point.

"I have no doubt about that," he said. "I never did."

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