(Photo: Providence Bruins)
On February 21, as the Boston Bruins experienced yet additional injuries, the organization recalled Ryan Spooner from the Providence Bruins, it’s affiliate AHL team. He was suited up and on the ice as the Bruins took on the Chicago Blackhawks the next day, hoping to show a solid rebound after their disappointing road trip that culminated in an embarrassing routing by the St. Louis Blues, which saw Malcolm Subban pulled in his first NHL game between the posts. Money was definitely on the Blackhawks being the victor, but the Bruins had other ideas, coming out with a mentality that has unfortunately been missing much of the season.
At the end of the first period, with a late goal by Jonathan Toews, the Blackhawks were within one of tying the game, and there was supposition that the Bruins would bring their usual lackluster second period performance. Such was not the case. Spooner, centering the line that included Milan Lucic and David Pastrnak, helped Lucic restore the two-goal lead for the Bruins and the team never looked back after that.
In three of the past four games, this line of Lucic, Spooner and Pastrnak have a combined four goals and five assists for nine points. Spooner and Pastrnak offer speed and youthful exuberance, which appears to have rejuvenated Lucic, as he has two of those four goals.
After pre-game practice on Thursday, March 5, before the Bruins host the Calgary Flames, I had an opportunity to go one-on-one with Spooner, who not only got his first career NHL goal, but the overtime game-winner on Friday, February 27, as the Bruins grabbed two very important points while on the road against the New Jersey Devils.
Given how many games Spooner had played in the Spoked-B, no one would have faulted him if his celebration on that goal was huge, but the 23-year-old, Ottawa, Ontario native is as reserved on the ice as he is quiet and pensive in interviews.
“I’m not really the one to jump on the glass or all that kind of stuff,” he said. “I just like to score and then get back to the play.”
Of course in this situation there was no more play—his goal had seen to that. But he also hadn’t actually seen it go in.
“I got the pass on the outside and I just tried to hit the net. I didn’t really see it, I guess you could say, go in,” he described. “I think it went through his arm actually and I’m not sure if it went off the crossbar and down or if it went off something and went out, I couldn’t really tell. I’m just glad it went in. I was actually kind of shocked and happy at the same time, so that was great to see.”
Perhaps the most emotion he displayed in regard to that goal came as his Providence Bruins teammate, and recalled goalie, Jeremy Smith, gave him a big hug. Then his eyes lit up and his mouth stretched in a warm smile of happiness.
Though a youngster by most rules and in most occupations, Spooner has seen some younger players get opportunities with the Bruins and capitalize on them—most recently his new line-mate, and youngest player in the NHL, Pastrnak. I asked him if he begins to wonder just what is young and is he still there?
“Yes and no. I think for the most part it kind of depends on you as a person,” he answered with thought. “Some people, I guess, you could say mature when they’re 18. Some mature when they’re 24.”
He’s trying not to let that get into his head, rather concentrating on growing and perfecting his game, even if that means returning to Providence and getting experience as a winger—though he is a natural center.
“I think it kind of made me grow. That was the first time I’d played wing, I’d say in like three years or something like that, so it was definitely a chance for me,” he answered honestly. “I kind of had to see it as a bit of a challenge and it didn’t really go as well as I thought it was going to go, but it just made me grow as a player.”
Injuries to the Bruins center, David Krejci, offered Spooner an opportunity to show what he could do at his natural position. The team has been so strong down the center that it is hard to crack the big club as a center, so Spooner is making the most of this chance. And while it does appear that Lucic has gotten some energy from his younger linemates, it’s clear that Spooner appreciates the veteran.
“[Lucic’s] been in the league for seven years, something like that. He’s a great player, great guy,” Spooner said, admiration creeping into his tone. “[His] being a big body, he can get to the net and then me and [Pastrnak] have speed.”
Sounds like a good combination, and one that the Bruins, traditionally labeled as a slower team, certainly could use.
“[The Bruins] have been good for a long time now, you know. They have their certain style and I just think that the game today is just geared more towards speed,” Spooner explained. “I think they need to have a good mix of both. You need to have some size and some speed and I think they have that here, and I think that’s good.”
And speed will be the name of the game Thursday evening as the Calgary Flames and Johnny Gaudreau—known to most as “Johnny Hockey”—come to town.
“He’s skilled. He’s a smaller guy. He’s fast.” Spooner said of the rookie from Boston College. “[We’ll] try to keep him to the outside and see how that goes for us. And just try to finish our checks on him and just try to make the game hard for him.”
Spooner may only be 23, but in just the last couple of years he’s matured, improved his play, and continues to be willing to do whatever the team asks of him; ever the team player. But he also appears to consider the press human beings, answering their questions with pensiveness and yet still a youthfulness that is great to see, and seldom present.
He understands the opportunity before him and is trying to play his style of hockey—a style that the Bruins liked in the first place—coupled with the new skills he’s acquired under the club’s tutelage. His future looks bright.