UXBRIDGE– Most professional hockey players who grew up in Canada can reflect back on their junior career and come up with a story or two about time spent in the Canadian Hockey League.
It is, after all, the most common path to professional hockey for a 16 year old.
But Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Will Acton took a different route; one that all began with a season of Central League Junior “C” hockey as a member of the Uxbridge Bruins.
Born in Minnesota, Acton moved around for the early part of his life, following his father Keith’s hockey career, until finally landing permanently in Stouffville at the age of 13.
After some minor hockey with his local Stouffville club, Acton looked at furthering his hockey development and turned to the OJHL Junior “A” level. Unfortunately, at that point in his career he wasn’t ready for the jump but that turned out to be just fine for the 16 year old high school student.
“The fall going into grade 11 was a little crazy. I was trying out for the Stouffville Spirit and Markham Waxers and I got cut from both of them pretty late and then just like that I didn’t have a team. The season was starting that weekend and I didn’t have a spot anywhere and I was really fortunate that the Uxbridge Bruins gave me a chance. It ended up being one of my fondest years playing hockey. It was a lot of fun”
While most players his age with aspirations of pro hockey were playing a much higher level than Central Ontario Junior “C”, the now 24 year old was happy the way his junior career started out and it was easy for him to embrace playing for Uxbridge.
“I found out quickly how great of a town it is and the type of people that are always there. Playing junior hockey there was great. I found out how to hang out with the boys all the time and when I look back I’m really glad it worked out the way it did. I learned a lot about junior hockey.”
It was the 2003-04 season that Acton donned the black and yellow. And before ever playing a game he had already been told what to expect; he just didn’t know what he would learn.
“I remember when I went there; people familiar with the league from previous seasons knew it as the zoo at one point. I remember seeing things in Junior C that if people saw it on Sports Centre today they would go insane. You learn if you’re going to run your mouth and run guys and be a dirty player you were going to have to answer it. It taught me respect.”
He remembers his first goal, first game, team functions run by the veterans and carpooling to the Uxbridge arena for Friday night games but it was how his season unfolded that he remembers most.
“I remember the last game we played. We were down to Lakefield three nothing in the series and we had a special guest speech and it motivated us and we won three games in a row and tied the series at three. Then we went to Lakefield for game seven and we went double overtime and we ended up losing. It was really a heart break and it was an experience where at the end of the season you’re very close as a group and with one goal it’s over and everyone headed their separate ways”
Acton’s separate way took him to the OJHL Junior “A” for the next three seasons where he played for the Stouffville Spirit. Then as a 19 year old he headed to Michigan to play University hockey. Four years in University not only earned Acton a degree in Finance and Economics but also kept his opportunity of pro hockey alive as he continued to use what he had been taught during his time in Uxbridge.
“I went to Lake Superior State after junior. That was a great experience. Going there I used a lot of what I learned with the Bruins. Uxbridge was great for me because it taught me the growing process of hockey and making goals. I’ve used it at all three levels of hockey and I plan to keep using it.”
By his final year at LSSU, he had won Most Improved Player Award twice and caught the eye of Toronto Maple Leafs management; which earned some playing time with their development team the Toronto Marlies.
Now signed to the Marlies, it looks like Acton will be starting the 2011/12 season as a member of the American Hockey League; a league one step below the big show. His road to a pro career took more time than some but it isn’t a path he would change. In fact, a season of Junior C with the Bruins to start his junior career is something he feels assisted in making him the Leaf prospect he is today.
“Playing in Uxbridge was an experience that comes back to where I am today with the Toronto Marlies.”
Follow on Twitter @KyleTheReporter
*This article was written for the Uxbridge Times Journal