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June 20, 2006
Hank's back home, and danged if he didn't dun get hitched.
Turns out Oceanside's best-travelled hockey player for hire had himself another memorable season—one of the highlights of which was getting married to the woman he loves with a Gretzky as one of the groomsmen.
By JAMES CLARKE
Born and raised in Ontario, Acres moved here in '92, graduated from Ballenas and played his final year of Midget with OMHA. Hank, a well-schooled and skilled defenceman, laced up with the hometown Generals, and also spent some time with the Jr. A Nanaimo Clippers and Victoria Salsa before embarking on a semi-pro career overseas.
Christina comes from Haparanda, a small coastal town on the Swedish/ Finish border."Much like Parksville," she says through a warm smile and thick Swedish accent. "But not really." "We met in the bank—she was a teller in Haparanda," Hank explains when pressed how they met. "I'd just arrived in Sweden and needed to open a bank account." It was November of 2003, and Acres was in his first season in the Swedish Division 1 league. Acres says he was smitten from the start.
"I just had to keep going back for some reason… complicated banking in Sweden," he chuckles.The two soon started dating, and Hank brought Christina back to Parksville for seven weeks last summer. "I like Canada," she says. "And (the trip here) helped me make my decision that I could make Canada my home country." Asked if she is a fan of hockey, Christina shrugged easily and said, "I am now." The two were married in Detroit last December—a small ceremony attended by some teammates including The Great One's younger brother Brent.
"Same skating style, same hockey sense, great passer, and same love of the game as his brother, Acres says of his old teammate in Detroit. On the subject of getting married in the Motor City, Acres says they were planning on tying the knot in Sweden "but she had some holidays so she came over (to Detroit) to see me and we just decided what the heck."
Spend some time with them and it's clear they make good teammates.
On his most recent hockey assignment, Acres says his plan was to return to Europe, but after five months of negotiations with teams in Sweden, Finland, France, and Holland no deal had been reached."It was the end of September, and I was skating with the Victoria Salmon Kings and ready to accept a try-out agreement for their training camp beginning the next week, when I received a call from Danton Cole of the United Hockey League's Motor City Mechanics. Within a week I had a contract signed and was in Detroit."
A great opportunity to be sure, Cole he points out, "is a very technically sound coach, who was a Stanley Cup winner as a player with New Jersey in 1996, under Jaques Lemare, and his system is a defence-first one." Cole was head coach of the AHL's Grand Rapid Griffins, the Red Wings top farm club before taking the job in Motown.
With the contract inked, Acres' season started with a bang, scoring the game winner, notching two assists and being named 2nd star of the first game of the season win over the Missouri River Otters.
For the next 10 games he was playing a regular shift and became a key part of the Mechanics powerplay, his specialty. At one point he was tied atop the league scoring race. And then, he says, "the trickle down filter system that is pro hockey began, and with Cole's NHL/AHL connections, AHL cuts started to arrive and I saw my ice-time shrink. But I was still seeing some powerplay time and a regular enough shift to feel I had a useful role and a place with this team," he says, adding even though during this time he had a lucrative offer to return to Europe.
"I felt that this team had a chance to be a championship team and I wanted to be a part of that."
The season moved along into January with the Mechanics beating some of the top teams. But they lost to weaker opposition, and were sitting five games over .500 and battling for a playoff spot.
"In Junior/pro hockey consistency is the key, does a player/team play at or above the same level day in and day out. Our team was not achieving at the desired level and when that happens changes to the chemistry/ makeup of the team are bound to happen."
For Acres, that came on Jan 18 when he was traded to the Richmond Riverdogs. "Getting traded is like getting fired from your job, (but) no matter how much you liked it where you were, you have to move on. Different companies have different goals, and it's the same with hockey organizations," he told The News. "I went from an organization that had a goal of winning to one merely wanting to not lose money. From my first conversation with the coach in Richmond I knew the rest of my year was going to be very different from my time in Detroit."
His new team, he points out, was comprised mostly of players straight out of Junior/College; "a big difference from Detroit where most of the team had played years in the AHL/ECHL, and some had NHL experience." His first game in Richmond was against Motor City, but a condition of the trade was that the players involved would not play until after the two-game weekend. Acres watched on as his old team took both contests from the 'Dogs, who at the time were 10 games under .500 and looked to have little to no chance at the post season.
Acres first game in a Richmond jersey came the following weekend; a solid effort that saw him create some offence and make sound decisions in his own end, helping pace his new team to Richmond's first victory over the Eastern Conference leading, Danbury Trashers.
The following night, Feb. 4, Acres and the Riverdogs were playing the division cellar-dwellers, Roanoke Valley Vipers, "and early into the second period, one shift after recording my first assist with my new team, I picked up a rebound from the front of my net and was about to turn up ice when I was hit from behind about 10 feet from the corner and was sliding very quickly head first into the boards," recalls Hank. "I managed to get my head out of the way but my shoulder was not so lucky and took the brunt of the blow, and when my arm went numb, I knew I was in trouble."
Acres, 31, was quickly dispatched to the hospital, and x-rays showed a 3rd degree separation of the AC joint, which meant 6-8 weeks recovery, maybe back for playoffs if all goes well.
The following weekend it was announced the Richmond team would be relocating to Chicago for the 2006/07 season.
"This became our team's rallying point and although I was not playing, we went on a huge winning streak and climbed back into the playoff race. "This factor, plus more injuries to the Richmond defence and his own desire to play against his former team from Detroit lead to his unexpected return to playing by March 15.
"I couldn't shoot," says Acres, "but I could pass and play a few minutes to ease the load for the guys who were playing a ton already. "The game in Motor City was one of my better performances, no points but I created a few scoring chances and we won in shootout.
Our winning ways continued and going into the final 2 games of the season we were tied with Quad City Mallards for the 8th and final playoff spot, 1 point back of Motor City for 7th. Our next opponents were Quad City on the road and this game held our playoff hopes."
"Alas, a turnover just outside our blue line lead to the winning goal with just over two minutes remaining in regulation." The Riverdogs and Motor City both won the following day to finish tied at 86 points in 76 games, "but we lost out on the head-to-head tiebreaker." As disappointing as it was to see his season come to an end, Acres found some solace in the fact the Riverdogs finished 20 games above .500 after his arrival. The wily rearguard finished the season with 53 games played—20 of those in 30 days after his return from injury.