The story behind Axemen Recruit Dustin Ekelman

Everyone loves Ekelman

****This is an article written last year about 2010 Axemen Recruit Dustin Ekelman, then of the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors of the OHL.

By Sunaya Sapurji Apr 17, 6:50 pm EDT

Dustin Ekelman stands in the hallway outside the dressing room fully decked out in a suit and tie. He is barefoot.

“I can’t find my socks,” the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors forward says sheepishly, rummaging though his pockets.

It’s understandable, for on this night, the overage forward is the star of the game having scored the game-winning goal—shorthanded no less—to help the Majors defeat the top ranked Barrie Colts, 5-2, and tie their best-of-seven Eastern Conference final at one game apiece.

The spotlight so rarely shines on Ekelman that one might think he, too, has been forgotten.

He isn’t flashy, fast, nor is he a highly touted NHL prospect—and yet Majors head coach and general manager Dave Cameron wishes his team had 10 more Ekelmans to put in the lineup.

“He has absolutely no ego,” says Cameron.

“The majority of things he does never show up on the scoresheet, the blocked shots, the finishing of checks, winning the one-on-one battles. The stuff you never read about and stuff you can’t win without.”

The overager has been instrumental for the Majors during their 2009-10 playoff campaign, finding the knack to score when it counts despite his predominant checking role. He is most often seen playing against the opposition’s top line, or on the Majors’ penalty kill making sure rivals are held off the scoreboard. In 13 post-season games, Ekelman has five goals and two assists—not exactly an offensive juggernaut—but when you consider he only scored nine goals with nine assists in 60 regular season games, the numbers show he’s definitely stepped up his play.

“I’m not the most offensively gifted player, so I have to do all the small things right,” says the winger. “I’ve had had my chances and I’ve got some good bounces a few more times in the playoffs than in the regular season.”

And no one is happier to see the congenial and eloquent Ekelman succeed than his teammates, who all clearly love the guy.

“He just gets along great with everyone,” says Majors captain Cameron Gaunce. “He’s so open to having everyone over at his house, if you need a helping hand he’s always there.”

His presence in the dressing room has also helped Cameron, a coach at times viewed as an intimidating disciplinarian, break the ice with his teammates.

“I love him because when I want to crack up the room and say something, sometimes the kids don’t want to laugh because they’re not sure if it’s a joke or not,” says Cameron. “But he’s the first guy that’s howling.”

Once the Majors’ season is over, Ekelman says he’ll likely pursue a university degree, though he hasn’t decided on which school to attend just yet. He’s still trying hard to extend his four-year OHL career as long as possible, because he’s just grateful for the opportunity.

Cameron recalls an incident back in the 2007-08 season, when he first rejoined the Majors after a stint coaching in the AHL. Unsure of the kind of talent he had on his squad, he sent Ekelman down to Tier II in Bowmanville while he assessed “the so-called high profile guys” who were ahead of the winger on the depth chart. All Ekelman was given was the assurance that if things eventually worked out, he’d be called up. Not buying into Cameron’s new system, the other players were traded out of town, opening the door for Ekelman’s return.

“I called him up and offered him a chance to come back and he took it,” says Cameron. “A lot of guys would have been a little bit bitter or a little bit angry, but not him.”

That spirit of selflessness has carried on to the ice as well. When the Majors were short on defencemen last season, Cameron threw Ekelman on the blue line, despite being unfamiliar with the position. He was back on defence again this season for a short stint while Gaunce and blueliner Stuart Percy were injured.

“I think that’s twofold,” says Cameron of the Whitby, Ont., native’s versatility. “That’s how smart he is, that he reads the play and sees the play, and the second part is that it ties into what a good teammate he is.”

Ekelman says the experience of playing on the blue line has helped him become a better forward, offering him a different view of the game. He talks about happily doing whatever Cameron and the Majors ask of him, as long as it helps the team succeed.

“Where ever coach wants me to play, I’m ready and willing to go,” says Ekelman, before pausing and letting out a laugh.

“Hopefully he doesn’t throw me in net.”