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Sharks sign Northern California native free agent

Mar 5, 2011, 3:03 AM EST

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The Sharks made history as they signed Bay Area native Sena Acolatse to an entry-level contract. Acolatse was raised in Hayward, Calif. and picked up the game of hockey before moving to Edmonton. The signing is the first Bay Area signing for the Sharks.

Signing Acolatse is in no way a PR stunt — the guy can play. Playing for the Prince George Cougars this season, he’s been one of the best undrafted defensemen in the WHL. He won player of the week honors by dropping 11 points in a single week in October. Bottom line is the offensive-minded defenseman was signed by the Sharks because he’s a good prospect. Period.

It’s a great story when a prospect is afforded the opportunity to sign with his childhood team. To be sure, Acolatse was all about the Sharks when he was growing up.

“I can 100 percent say the San Jose Sharks were the reason I started hockey. I remember Mike Ricci was on the team and Jeff Friesen and Owen Nolan. Mike Vernon was in net. Marco Sturm was there, too. I’d have to say my favorite player was Ricci at the time.”

From a big-picture point of view, this is just another milestone in the growth of hockey in the United States. Recently, hockey has been growing at an incredible pace in the non-traditional sunbelt markets. Specifically, California has show a boom of young prospects as of late. There were two southern California natives drafted in the first round of last year’s draft in Beau Bennett (PIT) and Emerson Etem (ANA). Nashville Predators rookie defenseman Jonathan Blum was born and raised in Southern California before moving to the Vancouver Giants in the WHL.

Now, Northern California is getting into the act.

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