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Spooner Centered on Playing His Game

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins - When you're trying to break into the NHL, playing without fear isn't easy.

Worrying about going to the right spots, shying away from others, being hesitant in certain areas or certain situations leads to being lost, on the ice, and in your mind.

The latter affected Ryan Spooner in a string of recalls to Boston in the first two and a half seasons of his pro career.

It's tough to explain. He knew he was limiting himself, and wasn't playing to his potential. Up and down, up and down, from Providence to Boston, and back to Providence.

He got his first taste of NHL action in the 2012-13 lockout season, after being called up when David Krejci was injured. The debut - which came in Montreal - was much anticipated for the speedy, skilled forward drafted 45th overall in 2010, but the stay wasn't long, playing just four games.

Next season in 2013-14, Spooner's time in Boston was a bit longer. He again filled in amidst injuries and played 23 games, recording 11 assists, but he was back in Providence at the end of January.

Heading into 2014-15, the center had a chance to earn a spot with the big club. With Krejci injured to start the season, he played three games centering Milan Lucic and Matt Fraser, then spent two games centering the fourth line when Krejci returned. But again, he was sent back to the P-Bruins.

With the Bruins' depth at center, maybe he would crack the lineup on the wing? That experiment was tried out in Providence. It was his first time playing that position. He felt lost and wasn't really sure where to go - maybe with time, it would have improved, but he quickly went back to playing the middle, and felt more like himself on the ice.

Then Spooner got hurt, and ended up missing about a month of action. He went home to Ottawa during the AHL All-Star break in January, not long after he had returned from his injury.

"I just went home and kind of looked in the mirror a little bit and said I wasn’t playing how I can," Spooner recalled on Boston's final day of media availability at TD Garden in mid-April.

After the All-Star break, Spooner went back to Providence, and was there for another month before getting the call to Boston in late February when Krejci suffered a knee injury.

This wasn't different than times in the past. The center was usually recalled when Krejci was sidelined.

But something was, in fact, different.

Spooner was more well-rounded. He was more confident. He was more involved, and wasn't afraid to go places on the ice. He went to the front of the net and battled bigger, stronger players, getting dirty goals and coming away with pucks.

He was just playing his game. He gave the Bruins a boost.

"I just came back and said I was going to have fun with it, and that’s kind of what I did," Spooner recalled.

He scored his first NHL goal in his third game back on Feb. 27 in New Jersey. It was an overtime winner, and it sent the Bruins trending in the right direction. He went on a seven-game point streak, putting up three goals and five assists for eight points.

Krejci would return with eight games left in the season, but Spooner didn't go back down.

He centered Lucic and David Pastrnak, forming Boston's best line down the stretch. He finished his 24-game end-of-season stint with eight goals and 10 assists for 18 points, including three power play goals and five power play points. He nearly doubled his NHL experience, which now sits at 56 games entering 2015-16.

Finally, the center had been able to break through on his own, playing his game.

"I think I was just afraid to make a mistake and kind of put a lot of pressure on myself to come in and make the team, and that’s not a way to play," Spooner said of his mindset in previous recalls. "I didn’t really make the plays that I should have."

The 23-year-old would have benefited from playoff experience with Boston. The disappointment of not making the Stanley Cup Playoffs was felt wholeheartedly by Spooner, the entire team and throughout the organization.

He didn't have long to get over that feeling, though, before joining Providence for the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Game 4 against Hartford is slated for Tuesday night (April 28) in Providence. Spooner had two assists through the first three games of the series to help the P-Bruins to a 2-1 series lead.

"Last year we made it to the second round, year before that, second round…We’re young and we’re skilled [in Providence]," he said. "Hopefully we can win, and see how that goes."

Spooner admittedly still has much to work on. Providence's playoffs have given him another opportunity to continue improving his game.

During his time in Boston, the center was able to practice faceoffs with Patrice Bergeron, arguably the League's best on the dot. He wants to improve in that area, in his consistency and in his defensive play. He knows it will take some time. Though his time in the NHL has felt long and well-documented, he's only played 56 games.

Spooner hopes to help his P-Bruins on a long run to the Calder Cup, and when the offseason eventually sets in, he'll be far ahead of where he was last summer.

In mid-April, before leaving Boston, he was asked where he sees himself next season with the team.

"I’m just going to focus on the summertime and go home and just have some fun and come back here and just try to play well," said Spooner. "That’s kind of where I am with that."

When September comes around, he wants to head into training camp in a different place mentally than last year.

Spooner's best assets are his skill set and his speed, but the area where he felt he made the biggest stride in 2014-15 came from working on a weakness.

"Just playing my game, not being afraid out there," he said. "I just did that, tried to have fun with it, and it seemed to work."

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