Will Acton grew up knowing all too well about the hockey player lifestyle. After all his father was Keith Acton, a long time and successful NHL player and then coach.
Acton was a lot like his father - a very good skater who excelled at the often overlooked parts of the game. He was a good utility forward who did not necessarily score very often but could be put out in most situations in a game. He had good instincts for how to play the game, particularly without the puck.
Will was born in Minnesota in 1987, back when his dad played for the North Stars. But he grew up in Stouffville, Ontario.
In 2007 he was off to Lake Superior State University on a hockey scholarship to study finance and economics. A bit of a late bloomer, Acton's game really matured over his four seasons at the school. Twice he was named as the school's most improved player and as the unsung hero.
Despite his success on and off the ice at LSSU, Acton was never drafted by a NHL team. But he did not let that deter him. He signed minor league independent contracts with the AHL's Toronto Marlies for two seasons. He had to make ends meet by working as a golf pro in the summers.
"I got the tryout with the Marlies when they had a lot of injuries at the end of the year and they'd been elimin-ated from the playoffs. They said I might get some games, but if somebody came back (from the injured list), I'd be the first one out the door. I took it as a great opportunity. Luckily, I made my mark there and made the team the following year.
The Edmonton Oilers took a liking to Acton's game and signed him to a two year deal in 2013. Not too many people thought much about the singing at the time it was announced but it turned out to be a smart move as Acton would get into 33 NHL contests, including the better part of half a season in 2013-14 after Sam Gagner had his jaw broken by Vancouver's Zack Kassian.
"I'm just trying to stick to the basics and execute our game plan," he said.
"I'm trying to focus in on what I have to do to improve every day and focus in on my game."
What helped Acton was he was a favorite of coach Dallas Eakins when the two were together with the Marlies. Now Eakins was the coach of the Oilers.
For Acton to make it was always a long shot. Though his dad was in the NHL, he was never the best player on any team he ever played on.
"From the time I was 14 or 15, I was trying to make the Single A team back home. I was always the guy on the bubble, but I always seemed to find a way to bring something to the table," Acton said. "In school, there were always players a lot better than me, but I always tried to make an impression. There's other things to help a team than getting the game-winner."
After his second season in the Oilers system Acton knew his future lay not so much in the NHL but in the minor leagues. Bouncing around the lowly minors with a young family is not enviable. So Acton took his wife - a former Raptors, Blue Jays and Argnonauts cheerleader/dancer) - and kids to Germany where he signed a multi year deal to play over there.
It’s definitely nice for me and my family,” he said. “When I played in North America it was more or less a year-to-year type of thing and as you get older its tough to fight for a contract and not knowing where you will play each year. That can be tough on a family. Now I’ve got some security and I know where we will be for the next three winters.”