The rink is dark. He can hear fans screaming in the background. His nerves have peaked but are overshadowed by excitement. He knows his opponent might be bigger, faster, stronger or older but this does not worry him. Tonight he came to compete. Tonight he came to win; and as the team takes to the ice, he knows the key to winning will be playing an “all around game.”
For Admirals center Nick Spaling
, the key to winning has always been playing a top-level defensive game, but that won’t be enough to make it to the NHL. Last year he realized that to reach the next level, you have to be able to play in all types of situations and be able to play a reliable game, both offensively and defensively.
“In the past I have played a lot against other top lines and played more of a shut-down role,” said Spaling. “I still want to do the same things but contribute more offensively and a little more consistently and put up a couple more points; get a little more production out of myself.”
And his role is about to change as he transitions from his rookie season into being a veteran on the team. While his goal to play in the NHL remains the same, his outlook on how to get there has changed.
Playing in the NHL seems a very attainable goal for Spaling. With his rookie season under his belt, he can focus on improving his game while getting bigger and stronger.
“Anytime its your first year you’ve got to prove yourself to your teammates and earn their trust and show them they can rely on you and that you can get the job done when you’re out there,” said Spaling. “My niche is that I work hard and like to compete every night.”
While many players are individually minded when it comes to advancing to the big leagues, Spaling believes team success breeds individual success. It is like a whole-is-greater-than-the-sum philosophy.
“The more success your team can have and the more success you can help your team to have, the more success every player on the team will individually get,” said Spaling. “You learn a lot by being on a winning team; team success really helps everybody out.”
In hopes of moving up in the ranks, Spaling has put in a lot of time to both mentally and physically improve his game. For him, it was mentally helpful to play with guys who were drafted so he could see what it takes. On the physical side, he lifts weights and works out every day to stay in peak condition.
“My biggest thing is getting bigger and stronger. I need to put on a little weight,” said Spaling.
While Spaling put up good offensive numbers during his rookie season, he always wants to improve and sees every situation as a learning experience. Both on and off the ice, he has learned a lot from his teammates and coaches that helped him focus his strengths. Before being drafted, Spaling was viewed as being an extremely versatile player. This was seen as an asset by some and a weakness by others.
“To make it in the pros, you have to stand out. Spaling is an overall good player but he has to find his niche and use it to his advantage,” one scout said.
Rather than take these comments as criticism, Spaling took them as a challenge.
“I think I learned a lot of stuff from our coaches and other teammates both at the rink and away from the rink. On the ice, I think one of the biggest things was getting ready to play every night and being focused for every game and every practice,” said Spaling. “You have to come out and work as hard in practice as you would for a game.”
Spaling felt very lucky to play in Milwaukee because everyone helped in one way or another. He learned how to be more independent but also turned to the older players on the team for advice.
“I learned the most from the older guys like Ortmeyer and Jones. They really teach you how to play at the next level,” said Spaling.
It is clear that Spaling is excited to further his career playing professional hockey. In the beginning, he was a little nervous because he didn’t know what to expect and came from being the oldest in juniors to being the youngest on the team. But who could ask for a better job than being a professional athlete?
While the road to the NHL will certainly be physically and mentally challenging for Spaling, he wants to have an open mindset about his journey.
“I want to go into camp with a mindset that any way it goes is good and go in there and give it my best shot and see how that turns out,” Spaling said. “I don’t know if I would do anything differently. I had a lot of fun and just want to continue building on last season.”