TORONTO– When the Toronto Marlies needed to shut down the Rochester Americans’ top line in their series clinching 3-0 victory, they turned to Jay Rosehill, Greg Scott and Will Acton to complete the task.
While Rosehill and Scott have seen various roles within the Leafs’ organization, Acton has grinded out all season doing one thing and that’s playing against the opposing teams best players.
The 24-year-old centreman signed with the Marlies back in July, with little expectations from the club, and spent the first three games of the season as a healthy scratch, but when head coach Dallas Eakins finally put the rookie in the line up Acton made it difficult for the coach to take him back out.
“Will’s a guy who we signed at the beginning of the year and I actually thought he’d play in the East Coast (Hockey) League,” said Eakins. “(But) we rely on him. He’s a guy that if we’re looking to squash out a team I’ll move him up. I don’t hold back with him.”
“I think I’m one of the guys that’s okay in the offensive end but I enjoy the bottom six role,” said Acton. “My status was uncertain (in October) and I tried to make the most of the opportunity they gave me and luckily I stuck around.”
Acton, a native of Stouffville, Ontario, spent one season playing Junior C hockey, three years of Junior A and finally four seasons at Lake Superior State before turning pro this year. Such a long road to the pros could detour a player away from the game but Eakins says that the path taken speaks highly of the type of person Acton is.
“This kid’s a fighter,” said Eakins. “I don’t think he’s ever been the best player on any team he ever played for but he scrapes and claws and he continues to do it. He’s just one of those guys, like a bad smell that won’t go away. He’s so well respected by his teammates for how hard he works. Who knows where his career will go.”
Relying on defensive play and work ethic throughout his young career, Acton hasn’t had to look further than home to learn a lesson or two as his father is NHL alumni and former Leafs assistant coach Keith Acton.
“His finger prints are pretty heavy on my game,” said Acton about his father’s presence. “He’s molded me into the player I am and I’m thankful to have a guy like him I can go home to talk to, not just as a coaching figure but as a father. He’s very supportive and proud of where I am right now.”
“I know how he was brought up. I coached with his dad and I know how hard working his father is and it’s obviously rubbed off on the young man,” added Eakins.
When the Marlies face the Abbotsford Heat in round two, Acton will again be called upon to shut down the opponents biggest threats. It will not only give him an opportunity to show his importance, but it will give him a chance to earn an NHL contract as he’s the only member of the Marlies to suit up in this year’s playoffs without one.
“I think anyone on an AHL contract is still aiming for the NHL but for now I just want to look at the playoffs and I’ll worry about the rest in the summer.”