There will be a familiar face behind the Stouffville Spirit bench next season.
The Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League franchise named Rob Acton as their head coach in early April, replacing the currently-suspended Jeff Perrin at the helm. Acton’s long history with the Spirit made him a clear choice.
“He was a player for us, but he was also an assistant coach for us for two years,” said Spirit general manager Ken Burrows. “Before then, he did some scouting for the Swift Current Broncos. He did a good job for us, and knew that one day, he wanted to be the head coach here in Stouffville.”
Acton played for the 2011-12 championship squad and, after returning to Stouffville, spent a couple of seasons as an assistant before surprising Burrows last summer.
“He accepted a job in Uxbridge last year and I didn’t know that was going to happen,” Burrows said. “It threw me off a little bit, but we talked over the year, and he did a good job in Uxbridge. When Jeff got suspended, he couldn’t coach next year, so we had to look for a new coach next year. Robbie gave me a call and we talked about it and we worked it all out.”
At just 25, Acton is still young, but Burrows has seen a successful trend with teams that go that route.
“I think he can relate well to the younger kids,” Burrows said. “I look around the league and see some guys that are struggling with their players and it’s some of the older guys, so maybe that’s an advantage for us.”
Despite his age, Burrows feels that Acton is up for being a bench boss at the junior-A level.
“What matters to me is if he’s ready for the challenge,” Burrows said. “He’s worked himself into a situation that he can handle it.”
Acton will be coaching at night and taking courses in marketing at Seneca College during the day, which creates a fair amount of available time for the former Spirit to improve a very young squad that went 8-43-1 last season.
“He’s going to school now, so he’s got the time and can probably spend more time at it right now than most guys,” Burrows said. “He’s going to college, but he’s off early and will be at the rink early, and there are some things he wants to do differently than last year.
“He seems to be pretty committed and I know he knows the game from him being on my team and also having been an assistant coach.”
Burrows said there will be other people in support that will help Acton in his first head-coaching position in the junior-A loop, including his dad.
“We’ll bring in some people around him that know him pretty good, and obviously Keith, his father, is going to be a big help there,” said Burrows of the elder Acton, who played more than 1,000 NHL games and was an assistant or associate coach for 18 years. “We’re not done yet.”
Burrows wouldn’t speculate as to what will happen beyond this season, when Perrin’s 68-game suspension, which he picked up in February, is over.
“It’s year to year at our level,” Burrows said. “As of right now, Robbie will be the head coach going forward. Having said that, at the end of the year, things change. Robbie has goals of moving on and coaching at a higher level.
“He’s 25, he’s a young coach, but he’s served well with us and a person like that, you never know,” Burrows added. “Someone may come and grab him for the next level. We’ll go year to year and see what happens.”
A heart-and-soul, positional-oriented forward, Acton has a lot of characteristics from his game that Burrows believes will help make him a successful coach for Stouffville.
“He did chip in the odd big goal, (but) he was more of a role guy, a checker, a spark plug,” Burrows said. “He could win the draw, finish checks, played his position extremely well, so that’s the way you know he knows the game, one way at least. If you take a look around, a lot of the guys that were role players like Robbie ended up being good coaches.”