Appleton hopes to become permanent NHL player
By Greg Bates
GREEN BAY – Eleven games into his NHL career, Mason Appleton was eager to score his first goal.
He finally got his opportunity to shine, and he made the most of it against the San Jose Sharks on Dec. 20, 2018.
When his Winnipeg Jets teammate Nic Petan got to a loose puck on the boards, Appleton made a push to the net.
“It was a scrum puck on the wall and [Petan] made a good play,” said Appleton. “He found me on the back door. It was a pretty surreal feeling, and it didn’t feel real for the first couple of minutes. It was great to get the first one out of the way and build from there.”
After the goal, Appleton expressed an ear-to-ear smile, as his teammates skated in to celebrate.
This was one of the most memorable highlights during his rookie season.
Appleton, who played high school hockey at Notre Dame Academy, took advantage of his stint in the NHL.
He played 36 games in his first season and tallied three goals and seven assists.
The 23-year-old said he learned something every day from playing in the league.
“I tried to be a sponge and learn as much as I could every day,” Appleton said. “You’ve got some of the best NHL players on your team and you’ve got a lot of guys that have done this for a long time.”
During Appleton’s two short years as a professional hockey player, he’s starting to make a name for himself in Winnipeg.
Back home in Green Bay, he earned some praise when he was presented a professional achievement award at the Lee Remmel Sports Awards Banquet Aug. 7.
“It’s awesome,” said Appleton about receiving his award. “Anytime you can do something like this in the community and be recognized in this fashion, it’s an honor. There’s a lot of great company who have won this award in the past, so to be mentioned in those names is pretty special.”
Appleton had a phenomenal prep hockey career.
After one year at Ashwaubenon, he transferred to Notre Dame for his final three years of high school.
His signature moment came during his sophomore season in 2012 when he scored the game-winning goal in overtime to help Notre Dame win its first and only state title thus far.
Playing at Notre Dame set Appleton up for success.
“There’s a great coach there in Cory McCracken,” he said. “He taught me a lot about the game and about hard work. Making the transition from Notre Dame to juniors was pretty simple and flawless. He’s done a lot for me and my development, so going to Notre Dame was a really good decision.”
Appleton finished his high school career with 66 goals and 110 assists.
He was selected in the sixth round as the 168th overall pick in the 2015 NHL draft.
After playing two seasons at Michigan State, he signed with the Jets.
Appleton was a little disgruntled he wasn’t chosen higher in the draft.
“There’s been plenty of times I’ve been cut from things throughout my career, and I’ve had a chip on my shoulder for years,” he said. “This is who I am as a person and as an athlete. I’m going to carry this as long as I play hockey.”
Playing in the AHL for the Manitoba Moose in his first pro season, Appleton ripped it up.
He amassed 22 goals and 44 assists and was bestowed with the AHL Rookie of the Year award.
He got called to the pros in his second season.
On Dec. 1, he played his first NHL game.
“You have some good times in the minors,” Appleton said. “You’re playing well, and in the back of your mind, you’re wondering when you’re going to get your chance. I was up for a while and was fortunate enough to play 36 games – it was a great experience and I want to build on that.”
Appleton knows how important this offseason is for his development.
“Every offseason is an opportunity to get better, take the next step and become a better player when you get back to camp,” he said. “Obviously, I’m excited to get back to camp, but there’s still a month left of work. These next 30 days are going to be important for me.”
Appleton is training in Green Bay this summer with some coaches he’s worked with in the past, including skating with St. Norbert men’s hockey associate coach Andy Brandt.
He said his main focus is rounding out his game and becoming stronger to be able to hold off defenders in the corners.
The Jets coaches haven’t told Appleton much about their plan for him for the upcoming season.
“It’s my goal to make the team out of camp, and that’s what I’m working toward,” he said. “If this doesn’t happen, I can’t pout and moan. I’ve got to be the best player I can be wherever I am – the rest will take care of itself.”
Appleton is shooting to become the Jets’ third- or fourth-line right wing.
“It’s not too big of a role, but it’s definitely a meaningful part of the team,” he said. “Hopefully, I can establish myself as a good penalty killer and reliable forward at both ends of the ice. I need to gain the coach’s trust and be the guy that can do whatever he needs in the lineup every night.”
Appleton’s desire to be a permanent NHL player is sky-high – he’ll do anything to achieve his lifelong dream.
“Come time for camp, everyone wants to steal everyone’s job, so I’m going to be ready to do this,” Appleton said. “I’ll put my best foot forward and give it all I’ve got.”