After viewing from afar, Fulton now guides the Lightning

Aaron Fulton

Former Centennial Bantam AA coach takes over Eastview boys hockey program

Over more than a decade of coaching hockey in the metro area, Aaron Fulton has gone against Eastview teams that he thought played the way the game ought to be played.

When the opportunity arose to actually coach an Eastview team, Fulton didn’t waste time putting in for it.

After being appointed the Lightning’s head boys hockey coach earlier this month, Fulton is understandably eager to get started. So far, because of pandemic-related restrictions, he’s been limited to video conferences with players and the hockey community. The team’s summer on-ice program is tentatively scheduled to start June 15 at Eagan Civic Arena.

Fulton coached against Eastview players as recently as last November, when his Centennial Bantam AA team defeated an Eastview squad in the first round of a tournament in Eden Prairie.

“I always knew Eastview teams were hard to play against,” Fulton said. “They were known for effort, hard work and compete level, and that’s always what I’ve wanted to see in my teams.”

Fulton, whose coaching career started at age 19 with a Bantam team in St. Cloud, coached the Bantam AA team in Centennial for seven years. AA is the highest competitive level for Bantams, which is the 13-15 age group. The next step for Bantam players typically is a high school program.

Fulton’s Centennial teams played in two Minnesota Hockey state tournaments and won three VFW state championships. He saw plenty of south metro teams during his run at Centennial and understands what his Lightning teams will be dealing with.

“The (South Suburban) conference has a lot of highly skilled teams, with the Lakevilles and Rosemount,” Fulton said. “Burnsville was strong last year and Eagan always has a good team. When you play teams like that two times a year, it’s a challenge.”

Fulton is succeeding Drey Bradley, who retired after about two decades in the Eastview program, including the last 13 years as head coach. Bradley coached the Lightning to the state tournament in 2013.

Fulton’s teams might not look that much different on the ice than Bradley’s. “When you think of Eastview, you think of a team that’s going to give you a competitive game. The kids work hard and do the right things,” Fulton said. “Even when they didn’t have the most talent, they still played together. I want our teams to show those characteristics, too.”

Before going to Centennial, Fulton spent five years in the Mounds View program, three as a Bantam coach and two as the high school varsity assistant. One of his mentors is Centennial boys hockey coach Ritch Menne, who made a similar jump from Bantams to the high school varsity.

“I had built a lot of relationships in hockey and thought it was a good time for me to run my own (high school) program,” Fulton said. “When I knew the Eastview job was open, I was interested immediately.”

Fulton was a three-sport athlete at Champlin Park High School and was all-conference in all three (football, hockey and baseball) as a senior. He earned a degree in sports management at St. Cloud State University. He didn’t play hockey for the Huskies but started his coaching career while still a college student. Fulton is married with three children and works for Sports Engine, a sports management software provider that serves youth and high school programs.

“I loved sports in general,” Fulton said of his high school career. “And I loved to be doing different things. I think about one-fourth to one-half of the Eastview players play at least one other sport, and I certainly support that. Different kids have different goals, and I know there will be some who want to concentrate on hockey.

“Getting back to people like Ritch Menne and the others who influenced me, they were always there for the kids. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it has to be about what’s best for the kids.”

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