Inconsistent play from the Bruins against the Penguins and Devils, as well as the head injury to Loui Eriksson, helped pave the way for Spooner’s season debut. Spooner found himself thrown right into game action, and centering the third line no less, against the Anaheim Ducks and the New York Islanders.
However, when Ryan Spooner first got the call from assistant GM Don Sweeny on Halloween morning, he had no idea what to expect, or if he would even get on the ice.
“Haven’t been told yet if I’m playing so I’m just going to go up there, I’m going to warm up and then just kind of get ready for the game like that,” said the 21-year-old center. “If I don’t play, I’ll be fine with that too.”
The news broke rather quickly, issued in a press release from Peter Chiarelli in the early afternoon that Spooner had been recalled from Providence and would be eligible for game action against the Anaheim Ducks.
The word ‘eligible’ left room for doubt of his status for last Thursday’s game, but head coach Claude Julien left no room for doubt in his pregame press conference when a reporter asked if Spooner would be playing.
“No I just wanted him to have popcorn and hotdogs up in the stands,” he remarked, ever sarcastically. “That’s why we brought him up.”
So why was the decision made to call up and play Spooner?
“I think we need a little bit more speed right now and we need a little bit more offense in our game and sometimes a new face in the lineup can certainly help bring that,” Julien said. “He had a good camp; he showed his speed, he showed his ability to be creative offensively and so maybe that’s kind of a boost we need right now.”
Spooner certainly showed his offensive skill in Providence, where he led the P-Bruins last season with 57 points in 59 games. Spooner also made a strong case during this year’s preseason, where his speed was evident, especially when he assisted Loui Eriksson on a game-winning goal against Winnipeg in overtime.
But cracking the Bruins’ lineup as a center is no easy task, and he wound up back in Providence for the start of the season. It was something that Spooner, while disappointed, took in stride.
“Yeah, I was kind of upset, but coming into camp I kind of realized that other center spots were taken, so when I got the news I was kind of upset about it,” said Spooner. “But tried to stay as positive as I could, just go down there and just try to work on the things they wanted me to.”
It was Spooner’s fifth NHL game with the Bruins, the first of this season, and he made it count. Midway through the second period with the Bruins trailing 1-0, Spooner initiated a play that led to Carl Söderberg’s first NHL goal and Spooner’s first NHL point.
On the pivotal play, Chara won a puck battle behind the Bruins’ net and chipped a pass towards the low wall. Spooner chased it down and lifted a bouncing pass through the middle and into the range of Chris Kelly at the opposing blue line. Kelly batted it in one motion to a streaking Söderberg, who shoved it past Jonas Hiller for the equalizer.
“I kind of just threw it across the ice, got a good bounce, and it went in the net,” said Spooner.
The Bruins would fall behind 2-1 in the last minute of the second period, but battled back to tie the game on the power play late in the third period. After a scoreless overtime, Spooner was injected as the first shooter for the Bruins’ shootout.
Although he didn’t net his shootout opportunity, the move displayed a high level of trust that Julien has in Spooner, as well as the young center’s value as a dangerous offensive weapon.
“I think he’s been a real good player; even in preseason when we had shootouts, we’ve used him. I’ve seen him now for a few years in Providence; he’s pretty good,” Julien said postgame.
In the loss to the Islanders, Spooner once again found himself at center and once again found himself in the box score with his second assist in as many games. This time he helped set up Dougie Hamilton on the power play for the Bruins’ lone goal of the evening.
During Monday’s media availability, after it had been released that Spooner was indeed headed back to Providence, Julien made sure to get in words of encouragement for his young center.
“He gave us what we wanted him to give us; he came in and gave us some speed and gave us that kind of stuff. On the power play, again he was a good guy on the half wall,” he said.
Julien emphasized that the reassignment shouldn’t be seen as a punishment for poor play, but as an opportunity for even more growth from Spooner.
“We want him to go back and continue to work on his five-on-five game,” he said. “His compete level is another area where we talked about at the beginning of the season; he has to battle in those tough areas.”
“So I didn’t mind his game at all but I still think he needs to continue to work on that part of his game down there.”
Although his time with the big club wound being short this time around, Spooner was excited and thankful for the chance.
“I’m pretty grateful for that, that they have that kind of confidence in me. I just try to go out there and try to play my best, and I’m really thankful that they gave me the opportunities like that.”