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Spooner Ready to Take Advantage of Call-Up

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins Ryan Spooner could have obsessed over the big club — who was doing well, who wasn’t, who was injured, when his opportunity for another call-up might arrive. As a third-year (full-time) pro and a player with 32 games of NHL experience under his belt, he had to suspect that if the Bruins were looking for a spark, he might be the guy getting a phone call.

But Spooner didn’t obsess. He didn’t allow himself to constantly wonder when he might be getting that much-anticipated call. He didn’t even get cable for his house in Providence, which made his mission — to focus, 100 percent, on his job with the P-Bruins — even easier.

“I would check the stats online and see [how the Bruins were doing], but for the most part, I just kind of focus on the stuff I’m doing here,” Spooner said earlier this week, following a practice at the Rhode Island Sports Center. “And if I get a call, I get a call. I’ll just kind of go with it.”

Earlier today, Spooner was — as promised — fully focused on an out-of-the-ordinary P-Bruins road trip that would take the team on a week-long tour of Pennsylvania and Virginia. The team left on Thursday after practice, and in its first game on Friday night, it was Spooners’ two second-period tallies that sparked the team to victory.

Spooner was in the zone. He was committed. He was doing exactly what he set out to do.

That, of course, is when the call came — when he least expected it.

Spooner was recalled by Boston on Saturday, following an injury to centerman David Krejci sustained in the second period of Friday night’s loss to St. Louis. Spooner left Wilkes-Barre on Saturday afternoon and met the team in Chicago later that night, marking the first time he has been with the big club since starting the 2014-15 season on Boston’s roster.

Earlier this season, Spooner played in five games with the big B’s. He struggled to get into a rhythm, particularly after playing on the wing for a couple of games, and was sent back to Providence on Oct. 19.

The first half of the AHL season was a test for Spooner, for myriad reasons. Given Boston’s logjam at the center position, the P-Bruins experimented with Spooner a bit, as the Bruins had done during his brief October stint. Head Coach Bruce Cassidy slotted him in at wing in the hopes that he would prove versatile enough to excel at both positions.

In Spooner’s own words, the experiment didn’t go all that well.

“They’re pretty deep in the center position, so it’s kind of tough,” Spooner said. “I tried to switch, and it didn’t really go as I had planned. They have a couple guys that can do both, but I think for the most part, guys kind of prefer playing the spot that they’re used to. I guess I tried it out, and it didn’t go well.

“[When] I got switched to the wing, I think I played there for 10 games, and it was the first time I had played there. I just wasn’t really sure where to go sometimes, and I guess was kind of lost — and now that I’m back playing the middle of the ice, I just know where to go and where to be, and I guess it all just seems to flow, so it’s good.”

The tribulation wasn’t over, though, even after Spooner resumed his natural position. That’s when he was bitten by the injury bug. In late December, an upper-body injury ruled him out for about a month, derailing the first half of what promised to be a critical season for him.

As a player that simply isn’t accustomed to being injured all that much, the mental anguish of being forced to sit out was far more difficult for Spooner than straying from his natural position.

“The first half of the year was not a good one for me,” Spooner said. “It was the first time I’d been hurt for more than maybe a week at a time, so it was tough for me to go through that. I wasn’t really sure how to kind of go about it.

“For me, it was just… I’m kind of just sitting out and I’m not playing and I want to be there, and I can’t. It just sucks. But at the same time, too, I guess it’s part of the sport, and you’ve got to stay in shape.”

So he did. He didn’t get down on himself. He prepared himself to make a run during the second half, and so far, so good. Since returning to the P-Bruins’ lineup on Jan. 21, Spooner has registered points in eight of the 12 games he has played. In seven games during the month of February, he has registered nine points (three goals, six assists).

And along the way, Spooner had had the chance to prove himself to be versatile, albeit in a different way than expected. Injuries and recalls have made consistency within the lineup a near impossibility in Providence. Spooner, therefore, has played on a line with nearly every other forward on his team — this, after spending nearly the entirety of last year on a line with Matt Fraser and Craig Cunningham.

This year, Spooner started with Rob Flick and Tyler Randell. Then, given an injury to Matt Lindblad, he played with Brian Ferlin and Justin Florek. Then, Alex Khokhlachev got hurt, so he switched lines again, skating with Seth Griffith and Colin Stuart.

“When [Khokhlachev] gets back, I’m not sure what’s going to happen,” Spooner said with a laugh. “I’ve played with pretty much the entire team this year.

“It’s been a bit of a change, but it’s part of the game, too. So I guess you’ve got to just go with the flow on that one.”

So Spooner did go with the flow — and he has continued to up the ante as he has gone along. That, perhaps, made this the right time for that elusive recall.

This season, Spooner had to be patient. He had to wait for the opportunity to come to him. He couldn’t force it. All he could do was focus on what he could control, and that — after the injuries, after the position changes and the line switches — was his play on the ice.

This season hasn’t been easy for Spooner. It’s been anything but. It has, however, been a learning experience, and an opportunity to grow — as a teammate, as a leader, and now, as a professional in the NHL, starting on Sunday against the Blackhawks.

“He’s been playing well,” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien on Saturday. “We know he’s a good skater. We know they started him on the wing this year to see if we could make a wing out of him because we’re so deep at center; they put him back at center after a while, and he’s gotten better, obviously.

“He was injured there for a little bit, and he came back and the last couple of weeks — he’s been really good. So we’ll give him an opportunity [Sunday] to come in here and play against a team that’s a good skating team, and hopefully it’s a good fit for him.”

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