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Spooner Learning from the Best at Faceoff Dot

The young pivot has looked to fellow left-shot center Dominic Moore for advice

by Eric Russo @NHLBruins / Boston Bruins

BRIGHTON - There was only one other time that came to Bruce Cassidy's mind.


The Washington Capitals - the team for whom he was head coach from 2002-04 - were in a heated battle with the Tampa Bay Lightning for first place in the old Southeast Division.


Washington was called for a face-off violation penalty that put the Caps down 5-on-3. Cassidy did not divulge how the penalty kill turned out, but given that he still remembers the situation, one could venture a guess.


"That's probably the only time I've ever seen it called," Cassidy, now one of Claude Julien's assistants in Boston, recalled Thursday following a training camp session at Warrior Ice Arena.


That was until Thursday night.


At 17:06 of the first period, Bruins center Ryan Spooner was called for a delay of game face-off violation, after twice being kicked out of the circle.


For the 24-year-old Black & Gold pivot, it was another learning experience as he tries to solidify his face-off abilities.


"[Wednesday] night [was] not too good," said Spooner, who won four of his 16 face-offs, on a night when the Bruins struggled as a team on the draw, winning just 41 percent in a 5-1 preseason loss to Detroit.


Spooner captured 42.8 percent of his face-offs last season, his first full NHL campaign, and felt he was making significant progress as the year went on. Now, just a week into training camp, the Ottawa native is trying to regain his timing in the circle.


"If you would have asked me that question at the end of last year, I would have said I was getting a lot better," Spooner said of his development at the dot. "It's just going to be getting into the timing of things and competing a little harder on the draws. Again, I'm not going to be 60 percent all the time.


"There are going to be games that I struggle and it's those games where maybe I just need to go for a tie, instead of trying to win it clean. There's going to be games where the puck's going my way.


"Maybe not try to overthink and just go out there and play."


Spooner has been taking extra reps towards the end of each training camp session to get as much practice in as possible. At the same time, he has also been trying to pick up advantages in other places.


That's where the word "cheating" comes in. It may sound odd, but when it comes to hockey face-offs, taking liberties at the dot is often how many of the league's top centers gain an extra edge.


"[Wednesday] night, I got a penalty for trying to cheat," said Spooner. "It's basically just trying to get your body in there, trying to cheat on your forehand, turning your skates so that they're at a 45-degree angle.


"A lot of the time you can get kicked out; it depends on the ref. If the ref's strict, it's kind of hard trying to tie up his stick before the puck drops, little things like that that help out.


"But at the end of the day, it's just about being smart and knowing who you're going up against."


New Bruins forward Dominic Moore, who last season with the Rangers won 55.3 percent of his face-offs - one of the best marks in the league - emphasized that "cheating" is just a small fraction of the process.


"You try to get an edge however you can," said Moore, who has been above the 50 percent mark each year since his first full season in 2005-06 with New York.


"There's a bit of a gray area there in terms of if you watch the way the pucks are dropped and the way the guys come in with movement and putting their sticks down first or second, timing issues there…That's just one part of it."


It all may seem like a trivial part of the game. But for any hockey team, having the puck in your control from the beginning is critical.


"When you start with the puck the game is so much easier," said Cassidy. "I think we're all in agreement there. We saw it [against Detroit], that was the biggest problem early in the game. We chased the puck a lot."


The Bruins are generally one of the better face-off teams in the league. Last season, Boston ranked 12th in the NHL with a 50.4 winning percentage at the dot.


Anything over 50 percent is considered strong and last season the Bruins had two of their centers cross that threshold. Patrice Bergeron, known as one of the handful of best in the game at taking face-offs, was at 57.1 percent, while David Krejci came in at 50.1 percent.


This season, the Bruins have added two more centers that crossed the 50 percent barrier a year ago: Moore and David Backes, who came it at 52 percent in his final campaign with St. Louis.


Moore is the only one in that group that, like Spooner, is a left shot. Having the 11-year veteran around has been a boon for Spooner.


"He's probably one of the best in the league," said Spooner. "He's got things that he likes to do. I was talking to him today and he said, 'As you get older, you're going to find things that work for you and your go-to stuff.'


"Unfortunately for me I haven't really found something that is my go-to. I think I need to find something that I have some success with and stick with it instead of always trying to guess what the other guy is doing."


As the old saying goes, practice makes perfect.


"You have to work at it…you have to be committed to it," said Moore. "It's definitely not easy, but if you have the right mentality and you try and build it up…The results will take care of themselves if you focus on trying to get better."

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