Rookie hopes path leads back to San Jose

by Mike Billings || AHL On The Beat Archive

Any hockey player will tell you that he would be thrilled to sign a contract with any team, no matter where it is. Many players dream of someday playing for their hometown team but not many can have the opportunity to do so.

Sena Acolatse has that chance.

The thought of playing in front of his friends and family back home had definitely entered his mind when he signed with the San Jose Sharks on March 4, 2011.

“It would be amazing to play in front of my home town and have my career come full circle,” said Acolatse. “I still have family out in the Bay Area and it would be a great feeling to play in front of them.”

The 21-year-old rookie defenseman from Hayward, Calif., now finds himself more than 3,000 miles east with the Worcester Sharks, getting acclimated to the pro game.

“There has definitely been a learning curve this season,” he admits, “but I have gotten my feet wet and at this point in the season, no one is a rookie anymore.”

Worcester Sharks assistant coach David Cunniff, who has worked with the likes of Justin Braun and Jason Demers on their way to San Jose, has seen the transition period for Acolatse this season and believes his skills are a huge factor on the Worcester Sharks power play.

“Sena is a guy who has come a long way from the start of the season,” said Cunniff. “There was a period of transition into the pro game because he wasn’t getting the space he was used to in juniors. A lot of guys feared him in the WHL with his speed and physicality.

“His urgency in his game has really improved throughout the season. He has a big shot from the point and we decided to give him a shot on our struggling power play because of that threat he possesses and his ability to get pucks through traffic.”

In 54 games played, Acolatse has two goals, 13 assists and 61 penalty minutes with the Sharks, and he is feeling more comfortable with every game. After five junior seasons in the WHL with Seattle, Saskatoon and Prince George – including playing right wing for a full season in 2009-10 – Acolatse certainly has shown he can roll with the punches, topping 100 PIM three times.

Acolatse showed off his offensive skill set in 2010-11, exploding for 15 goals and 48 assists in 66 games. But he was very quick to pass credit towards the person that energized his offense.

“I have to give credit to my coach (Dean Clark) who gave me more freedom out there and gave me more of an expanded role on the team. I took on more responsibility and leadership last year and it really seemed to pay off,” said Acolatse.

Sharks executive vice president and general manager Doug Wilson took notice and signed the undrafted free agent to a contract, making Acolatse the first-ever Bay Area native to be signed by San Jose.

He recalled his times living in the Bay Area as a youngster, and how the Sharks were influential in his decision to play hockey.

“I can remember going to Sharks games when I was younger and that’s pretty much what got me into hockey,” Acolatse said. “It was always fun to watch some of my favorite players like Mike Ricci, Jeff Friesen, Owen Nolan and Marco Sturm.”

While he and his Worcester Sharks teammates have been fighting for a playoff spot, Acolatse has also been fighting to see the puck recently. In February, he suffered a broken orbital bone and has been forced to dawn a cage ever since.

“I can’t wait to get it off,” Acolatse said. “I wasn’t a big fan of the cage so I went with the clear shield and it’s been a little better.”

But while he hopes to get rid of the full shield, it hasn’t blinded his coaches as to his potential.

“Sharks fans should be excited that they were able to sign a guy like Sena because of the speed and nastiness he can bring to our blue line and eventually to San Jose’s,” said Cunniff.

Eventually to San Jose’s. That sounds pretty good to Sena Acolatse. As a rookie, it is clear that his coaches have high hopes for him and some time down the road he will have the chance to play for his hometown San Jose Sharks. While nothing is guaranteed he knows his time in Worcester will be instrumental to achieving his dream as he awaits for his career to come full circle.