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MIAC Profiles of Excellence: Dustin Fulton, Hamline University

floated rightby Rich Mies, CSN Mapping the MIAC Columnist

Thousands of kids nationwide dream big while playing youth hockey. Many of them fantasize about scoring the winning goal in the Stanley Cup, or of leading their future professional or college team to championships. Only a small percentage of them ever see their dream come true, but some achieve success of which they did not dream. It is not likely that Dustin Fulton dreamed of becoming one of the greatest players to ever skate for Hamline University, yet he has etched his name in the school’s annals as possibly the best player ever to don the Piper sweater. In doing so, he has helped save the program and inject it with vitality.

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floated left“Dustin Fulton has been able to change the culture of an entire program from one of losing to that of winning,” stated Hamline coach Scott Bell. “Dustin, along with the seven other seniors, has been able to transform the culture with their hard work, positive attitude and refusal to let anyone define them or our program. Before Dustin arrived, many of the top players did not consider Hamline as an option. Now we have potential All Americans calling our program asking about Hamline.”

For nearly 60 years before Dustin and the class of 2009 arrived, Hamline hockey was mired in mediocrity. When Bell took over the program in 2005, the Pipers were a motley crew, rarely winning more than a handful of games in any given season. Only three times in the previous 40 years had Hamline won half of its MIAC games. “Other teams thought playing Hamline was ‘point night’, said Bell. “A series against Hamline was 4 easy points, and players looked to pad their individual stats against Hamline.”

Dustin and his classmates have changed this. As juniors, they lifted the program to its first MIAC title in 60 years, and took them to their first berth in the MIAC Playoffs. They reached the title game of those Playoffs last year and again this year. “Now teams are excited to manage a split with us, and are not certain if they will get any team or individual points,” said Bell.

Dustin has emerged as one of the leaders of the team, and is the team’s most prolific scorer. He has scored 56 goals and 144 points in his career, figures that are believed to be the top scoring output in school history. As a junior, he notched 50 points and 21 goals, also believed to be school records.

“He is the most dynamic forward to ever skate for Hamline,” states his coach. “Dustin will be remembered as one of the best players to play in the MIAC. His excellence has been recognized by numerous individual and team awards earned by his excellent play and leadership.”

floated rightIn each of his first three seasons at Hamline, Dustin has earned All-MIAC honors and was named Co-Player of the Year as a junior, sharing the honor with teammate Joe Long. The duo was named First Team All-Americans as well.

Dustin grew up in Brooklyn Park, a suburb of just under 70,000 in the northwest part of the Twin Cities metro area. “We lived in Sioux Falls, SD, when I was born,” Dustin said. “When I was one, we moved to Brooklyn Park, as my dad’s job brought him here.”

The Fultons are a hockey family. “My older brother, Aaron, played hockey, football and baseball in high school,” Dustin said. “My younger brothers, Jordan and Tyson, both play hockey. Jordan is at UMD, and Tyson is on the team at Breck High. My sister, Olivia, is a seventh grader and plays basketball and soccer.”

Dustin attended Champlin Park through his freshman year. There, he played football and baseball as well as Bantams hockey. He transferred to Breck, a private school in the western suburbs for his sophomore year. He skated at forward for the Mustangs for three seasons, earning All-Conference honors each year. He was named team MVP as a junior and was named All-State Honorable Mention as a senior.

Breck won its conference all three seasons Dustin was on the team. In his sophomore year, they lost in the Section final to Fridley Grace. “Junior year, we lost to Richfield in the first round of Sections, which was a huge upset,” Dustin recalled. The Mustangs bounced back and won the State Class 1A championship in Dustin’s senior year.

Off the ice, Dustin found time to be involved in community service projects through school. “I volunteered at a retirement home and was in a program for people with physical disabilities,” he said.

During high school, Dustin played hockey in premier fall leagues, honing his skills and gaining experience.

At Breck, he was recruited by many Division I programs for hockey, as well as many Division III schools. “The Division I schools all told me it would be best if I played Juniors,” he said. “If I did well there, I could probably get a scholarship at a D-I school.”

Dustin was drafted by the Des Moines Buccaneers of the United States Hockey League (USHL), the top Juniors league. He was there about half of a season. “I was skating on the fourth line and was not happy,” he said. “I asked to be released, and they let me go. I was picked up by Bismarck of the North American Hockey League (NAHL) and finished out the season there.”

Bell, who had accepted the head coaching job at Hamline, contacted Dustin about becoming a Piper. “I didn’t know who he was at first,” said Dustin with a smile. “Jordan had played for him. He stressed the point that, if I came to Hamline I could be part of building a program essentially from scratch. He had high expectations and I liked what he was saying.”

Dustin was offered the chance to play for the Bay State Breakers the following season, but he declined. “I thought about it a lot, and decided that getting an education was my top priority,” he said. “So I turned them down and enrolled at Hamline.”

While at Des Moines, Dustin was teammates with Joe Long, who he had known from youth and high school hockey. Dustin mentioned Joe to Bell. The coach got in touch with Joe and convinced him to be part of the foundation of the Hamline rebuilding.

The Pipers struggled in Dustin’s freshman year, posting a 3-11-2 record in MIAC play and 4-16-3 overall. Dustin was named to the MIAC All-Rookie Team and the All-MIAC team, as he scored seven goals and had 10 assists in league action. He was third among rookies in scoring, and led the league in short-handed goals and short-handed points. He led the Pipers with 10 goals and 25 points.

Hamline was 3-13-0 in the MIAC in Dustin’s sophomore year, and 7-18-0 overall. Dustin ranked among the conference leaders in goals (eight), points (17) and assists (nine) and was named to the All-MIAC team. Overall, he led Hamline in scoring, goals and assists, with 34 points, 13 goals and 21 assists.

floated leftThings came together for the Pipers the following year. They surged to their first MIAC title in 60 years, and were nationally ranked for the first time in program history. Dustin set school records for goals (21), assists (29), points (50), and was conference leader in points and goals. Hamline made the MIAC Playoffs for the first time. They defeated Saint John’s 4-2 to reach the championship game, where they lost to St. Thomas, 4-1. They finished the season 16-7-4, but failed to get an invite to the NCAA Division III tourney.

This year, Hamline finished in a three-way tie for second, behind St. Olaf and was seeded fourth in the MIAC Playoffs. The Pipers beat Augsburg 5-4 in the quarterfinals and knocked off St. Olaf 5-1 in the semifinals to reach the championship game, where they tangled with Gustavus, falling 5-2 to close their season 16-11-1, the Pipers’ first consecutive winning seasons in decades. Dustin finished with 35 points on the season and 12 goals. In MIAC play, he scored 22 points, tied with Joe for third in the league and was among the league leaders in goals and assists. He was named to the All-MIAC Team.

Dustin is a Business Administration major with a 3.37 GPA and will graduate in May. He has had internships as an equity intern and in merchandising and is looking for a business career in marketing or finance.

However, that career path may be delayed, as he is hopeful of playing minor league professional hockey. “There are some leagues on the East Coast as well as in Europe where I think I can get a chance to play,” he said.

His impact on the Hamline program is significant. “Dustin has set a standard of excellence on and off the ice that will last forever,” said Bell. “I can’t say enough good things about Dustin and his ability to stay positive and work hard. He is an excellent role model for any student-athlete in the country. He has been able to balance academics, work and athletics without sacrificing his standards of excellence. He has set the standard for our young players with his work ethic in the classroom, weight room and on the ice. I will forever be grateful to Dustin Fulton and all he has done for Hamline.”

[The photos are used courtesy of the Hamline University Sports Information Office.]

The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) is widely respected as one of the premier conferences in nearly every sport competed in Division III. Year after year, the MIAC produces teams and individual student-athletes who excel in their given sport. At the same time, the MIAC schools maintain a reputation of commitment to academic excellence. This article is one in a series of spotlights on some of the young men and women who represent the league’s commitment to excellence, both in the classroom and athletics during the 2008-09 academic year.

This feature will be included in the “Profiles of Excellence 2008-2009″ book which will be available for order at RDM Publishing. It will feature profiles of student-athletes from the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, written by CSN’s “Mapping the MIAC” columnist Rich Mies.