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In his first season with the 'C,' Spurgeon is rightfully recognized

Big part of best points percentage in franchise history was locker room leadership

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

Jared Spurgeon's first season as the Wild's second full-time captain was unlike any season in the franchise's history. 

He didn't get a big opening night ceremony in front of a packed house to unveil his new '46' jersey with the captain's 'C' on the left shoulder. 

He led the club into sometimes empty arenas, where the team didn't have the benefit of a full barn to create energy and atmosphere ... that was up to the group.

None of it was easy, not with a packed game schedule, grueling travel and the ominous grey cloud of COVID hanging over the team all season long.

But none of that pomp and circumstance is really Spurgeon's style. And like he has his entire career, he persevered, led by example, did his job to the very best of his ability, and at the end of it, he was recognized for his efforts for doing just that.

On Saturday, Spurgeon was named a finalist for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, awarded annually by the Pro Hockey Writer's Association to a player "adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability." 

Spurgeon's status as a finalist for the award is a long-time coming for a player long viewed as one of the most underrated at his position in the NHL.

Underrated to opponents and fans of other teams, perhaps. But Spurgeon's value in Minnesota has long been appreciated by the coaches and GMs who have watched him continue to evolve from a no-name rookie into the team's captain and highest compensated player.

And now, a finalist for one of the League's most prestigious awards.

Video: Season Wrap Up: Jared Spurgeon

"For myself, it was just trying to get the guys together as much as possible and becoming a tight-knit group," Spurgeon said at his season-ending press availability earlier this week. "With the protocols this year, it almost made it easier with being on the road and not being able to go out for dinner. We were together a lot. Like I said the time before, it was a lot of help, too. Guys have to be willing to be in those little team gathering party type things, and bringing us together. It was just a lot of fun this year. I think every guy could say that every day we came to the rink we had a smile on our face and we were looking forward to it. I think just the next-day approach that - no matter what happened the day before, we came into work and had fun - really helped."

Establishing that kind of group wasn't a difficult challenge. From day one as captain, Wild GM Bill Guerin implored Spurgeon to simply be himself. 

And he was.

"I think you try and be the same person. From day in day out and not changing but at the same time you do have more responsibility with certain things," Spurgeon said. "But every guy in that room was a huge part of this year. There's a lot of leadership in there that helped me along the way and wasn't just myself leading the charge in there. I think you could see every night there was someone else, someone maybe bringing the energy or just having a great game.

"In the locker room we had the same things that people don't see with people talking or just little things of helping out. It was fun and special definitely to have that honor, but it's a team effort in there."

Minnesota had one of its finest seasons in franchise history, finishing third in the West Division, but pushing division leaders Vegas and Colorado until the final week or two of the regular season. 

From a points percentage perspective, no other team in franchise history was better. This season's .670 points percentage topped the 2016-17 Wild for the top spot and is one of just five teams in 20 years to top the .600 mark. 

A big part of that is a reflection on the team's leadership core, of which, Spurgeon spearheads.

Video: Season Wrap Up: Bill Guerin

"The most important thing to me are the signs of our team-first mentality, our competitiveness, our dedication," Guerin said. "We talk after each and every game some of the things that we did are signs of a winning team. We talk every day about our culture, our culture has improved."

That culture change, and the on-ice results that followed are expected to lead to a rush of League award finalist nominations in the coming weeks. 

Kirill Kaprizov has already been named a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie, an honor he seems poised to win. 

Spurgeon's nomination could be followed by others, including Joel Eriksson Ek for the Selke, Matt Dumba for the Masterton and even Dean Evason for the Jack Adams and Guerin for the Jim Gregory GM of the Year. 

While the Wild has had a handful of finalists for league-wide awards over the 20 years the franchise has been around, nothing compares to the potential flood of finalists this season. 

And Spurgeon played a part of that, whether he wins his award or not. Regardless, it wasn't a bad first act as the team's second captain.  

Now it's about the next chapter.

"It means we made a step right? I'm extremely proud of our coaching staff. We are proud of the stuff that we've started to instill in our group. Whenever those things happen -- the individual awards or whatever -- it means that you're doing the right things as a franchise," Evason said. "There's so many different pieces to getting an award and the same with a coaches award. There's so many people that are involved in that. 

"But it says that we did some really good things this year. We're excited about what we did this year as far as the regular season. Extremely disappointed that we're not still playing. Every season when we go in our goal is to win the Stanley Cup. That's it. So in that sense it was a failure. But we had a good regular season and we can build on that. We're looking forward to that next year."


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