Emo products sharp as ‘Blades’ for Dordt

Dan Falloon

Between Luke Judson with the Belleville Bulls (OHL), Cody Mosbeck with the Gustavus Adolphus Golden Gusties (NCAA), and Jake Esselink with the American College Hockey Association’s Dordt Blades, Emo has produced its fair share of hockey captains of late.
But Esselink had to use his captaincy in a different capacity than his fellow locals, assuming a large teaching role along with the expected leadership duties.
“I had a lot more teaching the guys,” he noted. “It was not necessarily a normal role as a captain.
“It was good to see the team go and succeed,” he added.
The 2005 Fort High grad had leaps and bounds more experience than many of his teammates, and was put in a position to pass along what he knew.
“It was a lot of the basic stuff,” Esselink recalled. “A lot of the guys had played hockey before, but they hadn’t played contact or a high level of contact hockey.
“I had to teach them just where to be on the boards, getting the puck out, working on break-outs, and where to be in the offensive zone, too.
“That was what we spent a lot the season on, just getting the basic stuff,” he noted.
“After a while, they picked up on it, but the whole first semester was pretty much all basics.”
One of the players Esselink worked with was fellow Emo native Doug Veldhuisen, who joined the Dordt hockey team last fall after not playing in 2008-09.
“Hockey was just something where they needed players, so I gave it a try,” he noted.
Veldhuisen said while he had played some minor hockey in Emo, he didn’t compete at a particularly high level, meaning the learning curve to ACHA play was a significant one.
“It’s full contact, so I had to get used to being hit and hitting, and the fast pace,” he remarked.
“I’ve probably improved a lot from the beginning of the year, and got a lot of confidence.”
Esselink and Veldhuisen played in a men’s league back in Emo, so they had some ice time together before teaming up at Dordt.
Esselink credited his teammate for being ready and willing to soak up any possible information.
“The adjustment to hockey was keeping his head up because he was, like most guys who play men’s league, their head is always down,” he said.
“They’re not worried about getting hit.
“Anything you would teach him, he would love to learn it,” added Esselink. “And he’d pick it up right away and he’d always ask questions.”
In addition to his role as a de facto assistant coach, Esselink also dominated on the ice, earning a selection to the first team Pacific Region All-Star Team.
After notching 13 goals and 40 assists in 2008-09, Esselink finished fourth on the team with 36 points this past season, including a team-leading 27 assists.
However, he stressed he was the go-to guy on the back end, leading him to play a more conservative offensive game.
“This year, I was definitely more of a shut-down guy. Last year, I was able to take off a lot more,” he recalled.
“We had a lot better offence last year, and defensively, we were pretty good, too.
“This year, I tried to sit back and just play ‘D,’” he added. “Just to make sure and to be there for my partners.”
Blades’ head coach Bill Elgersma said Esselink has become an invaluable part of Dordt’s blueline, living up to his Northwestern Ontario upbringing.
“[He was] our biggest defenceman for the past two seasons,” Elgersma lauded in an e-mail to the Times.
“[He was] strong, tenacious, hard-working, with a great hockey background and a willingness to lead the team.”
Elgersma felt Esselink epitomized what Blades hockey is all about.
“Dordt has been known as a team that hits hard and Jake is part of the equation for that,” he explained. “He finishes his checks and he enjoys the contact of the game without being dirty.
“Combining that with excellent skills and extensive knowledge, opposing teams cannot wait for him to graduate.”
Esselink was part of a defence corps of only four blueliners, meaning he had to be ready to go every second shift.
“Since high school, I’ve been going every other shift, so it’s not a huge thing,” Esselink shrugged. “I like it because it keeps you in the game all the time.
“You don’t have a huge break on the bench.”
With Esselink graduating next month, Elgersma has mused about putting Veldhuisen, who notched one assist on the season, in Esselink’s spot on the back end.
Veldhuisen said he had no problem with that possibility.
“Throughout the year, he’d throw me back on defence if we were a guy short,” Veldhuisen noted. “Bill’s always seen me as a two-way player.
“I’m pretty good offensively, but I can hold my own defensively,” he stressed. “I’m a good skater and a passer, too.
“We’re losing some really quality defencemen for next season, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he wanted me to play ‘D,’” Veldhuisen added.
“I’ll have to get used to that role.”
With Esselink and Veldhuisen in tow this season, Dordt qualified for the ACHA Division III national championships, held in Estero, Fla. in March, for the third-consecutive year.
The Blades, ranked last in their four-team division, lost all three games there, falling 7-2 to Florida Gulf Coast, 5-3 to Farmingdale State, and 5-1 to Davenport.
But Veldhuisen made it clear getting to the nationals wasn’t a given since the seventh-seeded Blades beat a pair of higher-ranked teams, No. 6 U.S. Air Force Academy and No. 5 Wyoming, to snag the regional berth in Las Vegas.
“They were both upset wins for us, so that got us to Florida,” he enthused. “[It was exciting], during the winter, to go out to Las Vegas and have some fun.”
Off the ice, Elgersma also noted both players have received compliments around campus for their friendly and outgoing attitudes, and both are part of the hockey team’s volunteer project to help shingle the assistant coach’s home in Sioux Center.
“Beyond hockey, both of these players epitomize the Northern Ontario qualities of character and work ethic,” Elgersma lauded.
“I would like a dozen more of them.”