As dazzling as he was in Ottawa and the Valley as a minor hockey phenomenon, Ryan Spooner remains grounded as a member of the Boston Bruins.
Asked if he always scored the “game winner” in his boyhood dreams of playing in the NHL in his hometown, Spooner says no. He didn’t dare to dream that big.
“When I was younger, I didn’t really think I’d get a chance to play here,” Spooner said, before playing in his third career NHL game, and the first regular season game in Scotiabank Place, just a few kilometres from his family home in Kanata.
The guessing was that Spooner, if he did play, would be at centre in place of David Krejci, who suffered a bruised knee three games ago. Instead, Bruins head coach Claude Julien had another idea. He played both Spooner and Krejci, and sat out Rich Peverley, who has been struggling.
Spooner was philosophical when a Boston writer asked him about the storybook possibilities. The focus, he said, would be on playing a simple game, minimizing mistakes.
“If I do that, other things will kind of fall into place,” Spooner said. “If I’m meant to score, I’m meant to score . . . just get in the right places and if it happens, it happens.”
Typical of Boston-Ottawa battles, this was one was decided late, on a Dennis Seidenberg goal with 1:04 left in the third.
Spooner held his own in a tight chess match not designed for his offensive skills.
Plenty of local teams and coaches claim Spooner as their own. He played competitive minor hockey for the Goulbourn Rams, Kanata Blazers, Ottawa Valley Titans and Ottawa Senators AAA. At each level he was the player to watch, the opponent to mark.
As an eight-year-old, he was the one who could score bar-down, at will. In 2007-08, when the Ottawa region took the leap to AAA hockey, it was pioneers Spooner and a Gloucester defenceman named Erik Gudbranson who helped make the Senators and (in Gudbranson’s case) the Ottawa 67′s AAA minor midgets competitive against the big, bad GTHL clubs from Toronto.
In the OHL Cup, Spooner and Gudbranson led their teams against other 1992-borns such as Jeff Skinner and Tyler Seguin, Spooner’s Boston teammate. Spooner’s Senators reached the Cup semi-final, heady stuff for Ottawa’s foray into AAA.
Now, Gudbranson is playing 20 minutes a night on the Florida Panthers’ blue line while Spooner is making headway in the deep Bruins organization. He made his NHL debut Feb. 6 in Montreal of all places. Growing up, Spooner was a Canadiens fan, largely because of his father, Brad, and his lifelong obsessession with the Habs. Fan loyalty has its limits. What’s a dad to do when his son gets drafted by the Canadiens’ hated rival, the Bruins?
“Yeah, I think he was a little bit torn there,” Spooner said of his dad witnessing Ryan’s first NHL game at the Bell Centre. “He’s a Montreal fan, so he actually wore a Boston jersey there, it was hard for him to do. But, good for him.”
Spooner saw his second NHL game action in Winnipeg Tuesday, after Krejci’s injury, recording more than 15 minutes of ice time, and three and half minutes on the power play. With Krejci back on his regular line, Spooner saw less time Thursday against the Senators on a fourth line with Jordan Caron and Jay Pandolfo. Spooner did get power play time as well, though.
Otherwise, he’s been going about the business of learning how to be a pro in his first season at the AHL level. When he was called up by the parent club this week, Spooner was leading the Providence Bruins with 12 goals and 33 assists, 45 points in 50 games.
“The longer you’re around it (NHL), the more comfortable you get,” Spooner said, of his second promotion. “I remember when I started in the American Hockey League, I was pretty nervous, I didn’t really know what was going on. When you’re on the ice, you’re a bit more tentative … but the more you’re around (the higher level) the better you’re going to play.”
The first signal that Spooner was home was the large scrum around his stall in the visitors’ room during the morning skate.
But first, he REALLY came home – to his Kanata family on Wednesday, a rare day off on the road for a professional hockey player. The Bruins had arrived in Ottawa after a late night flight from Winnipeg.
It was a reunion in more ways than one. The Bruins centre not only got to visit with his mother (Sue), father (Brad) and sister (Kaitlyn), he was able to see man’s best friend, the new-ish chocolate lab Spooner had to part with in January, so the pup could have good care while Ryan was traveling.
“His name is Carll,” Spooner says. That’s right, Carll with two lls. Spooner’s Providence roommate, Torey Krug, suggested the name. Spooner added the ‘l.’
“He’s gotten a lot bigger,” Spooner says of his new pet. “My mom said I can’t take him back, she got pretty attached to him … he was pretty excited to see me and I’m glad he remembered me.”
Hockey people in Ottawa remember Spooner, and are glad to see him in the NHL.