UXBRIDGE – Former Uxbridge Bruins forward Will Acton is one step closer to playing in the National Hockey League.
The Stouffville native, who was a member of the 2003 Bruins as a 16 year old, signed his first NHL contract on July 5 with the Edmonton Oilers after spending the past two seasons playing in the American Hockey League for the Toronto Marlies.
“I’ve worked pretty hard over the last two years in my opinion to hopefully get a two-way contract, maybe get a call up and fulfill my dream of playing in the NHL,” said Acton. “When the offer came in, I was really excited about it.”
Acton will attend his first NHL training camp this September and he understands that a spot will have to be earned. But with Edmonton being a young club, with recent management and coaching changes that have it pointed in a new direction, suiting up at some point this season isn’t out of the question.
“Bottom line is that you’re going to have to beat out someone with the same goal as you,” said Acton. “My job is to go there and lay everything on the table, play as hard as I can and let (the coaches) make their decision.”
If Acton, now 26, doesn’t make the Oilers out of camp, he will head to their farm team, the Oklahoma City Barons. While being back in the AHL isn’t ideal, even getting to an NHL camp is a feat in itself after the path he’s taken.
Never playing hockey at the triple A level, Acton squeezed on to the Bruins in 2003 after playing single A with his hometown Stouffville Spirit. From there he moved on to junior A with Stouffville and eventually earned himself a scholarship to Lake Superior State in Michigan. Four years there got him a degree in finance and economics, two most-improved player-of-the-year honours and eventually a sniff from the AHL’s Marlies as a 23 year old.
“I never really got too up or too down,” Acton said about the unconventional path he took to get to where he is. “There were times that were hard when you got cut from a team, but that’s any player. I just kept persevering that maybe one day (the NHL) would happen. It was a path where I didn’t know how I was going to get there but setting short-term goals, I thought it would present itself. Thankfully this summer it did.”
With the Marlies, Acton carved out the role of being a reliable, bottom-six forward who could kill penalties and do the fundamentals well. At six foot two and 190 pounds, he isn’t the biggest player on the ice, but he can hold his own as he proved this past season by being second on the club in fights. He also showed an offensive side in the post-season with three game-winning goals.
“He’s like a bad smell that won’t go away,” said Edmonton’s head coach Dallas Eakins, who is familiar with Acton from time spent in the Marlies organization. “He’s never been the best player on any team he’s ever played for, but he scratches and claws and finds a way.”
A player who has somehow found a way to succeed at every level, Acton will spend his summer training for camp in the fall. While nothing is guaranteed, and he admits there are nerves, he will head into Edmonton ready for the challenge.
“I was always comfortable being the underdog,” said Acton. “The guy going into a team with only five spots left and who’s going to make it. I’ve been like that for the last five, 10 years and I like it. It’s just been my path and I’m hoping to extend it.”
*Published in the Uxbridge Times Journal on July 18th, 2013