When Jared Spurgeon skates off the ice for the final time as a Spokane Chief, he’s going to have quite a collection of memorabilia.
But it’s the memories that have made his five Western Hockey League seasons exceed his expectations.
“It’s better just because of the friends you make,” he said. “When you come down here, you’re just looking to have fun and play hockey. You don’t realize friendships you’ll make off the ice. When you go home for the summer, you’re home for a week and you’re looking forward to coming back.”
That’s quite a change from his first visit to Spokane.
“I remember coming here as a 16-year-old,” said Spurgeon, a 10th-round pick in the 2004 Bantam Draft. “I was scared coming down here for my first camp knowing how the guys were bigger and older, plus life away from home as well.”
But there’s no coming back for the 20-year-old Spurgeon and he is going to leave quite a void.
It speaks volumes that his teammates have elected him as an alternate captain three times and twice voted him as the Players’ Player to go with a pair of Defenseman of the Year and sportsmanship awards.
Mix in a Memorial Cup ring and Spurgeon is going to have pleasant memories. But that’s jumping the gun just a bit.
“I’m not fearing it. It’s very near the end of it, so I haven’t been thinking about it at all actually,” Spurgeon said. “I expect to be here a couple of more months.”
If the Chiefs have a long run in the playoffs, which start this weekend in Portland, Spurgeon is going to be a big reason.
Despite missing the first 18 games after offseason shoulder surgery, Spurgeon had a career-high 51 points, including 43 assists. His career total of 170 points is the fourth most for a Spokane defenseman.
It took Chiefs coach Hardy Sauter half of a practice to see what makes Spurgeon special.
“His hockey sense, or intelligence, whatever you want to call it,” Sauter said. “You can just tell. If you’ve played any sport, you can tell who the smart players are right away.
“I think what he has he was born with and he has developed it. You can teach some guys scenarios. If the puck goes from A to B, I want you to stand here. But there are some situations a guy just has to read and react. That’s where Jared separates himself.”
Assistant coach Jon Klemm had a teammate in the NHL, Sergei Zubov, an offensive defenseman and All-Star that comes to mind when he watches Spurgeon.
“Very intelligent, very patient with the puck, not only gifted offensively but good defensively,” Klemm said. “He’s not the fastest skater, but he skates well. He’s so intelligent with the puck. He’s a hard guy to check, because you don’t know what he’s going to do with it.”
The Chiefs were 10-8 when Spurgeon joined the lineup in November with a three-assist game and 35-21 since.
“The best thing about him is he’s not all about offense,” Sauter said. “He’ll block shots, he’ll play defense, and he’ll get in the way. He’s not physically intimidating, but yet he’s more effective than a lot of guys well beyond his size.”
Spurgeon credits Spokane’s system and his teammates.
“It’s definitely nice having forwards coming back playing that defensive role first,” He said. “It also gives us a chance to make more risk plays, get offensive chances as well. It’s definitely been fun playing in this system.”
Though only 5-foot-9, 185 pounds, Spurgeon was drafted in the sixth round of the 2008 NHL Draft by the New York Islanders, but he hasn’t signed a contract.
“In today’s game I don’t think he is too small,” Klemm said. “You look back maybe 15-20 years ago (and) a lot of scouts, teams shied away from a guy his size. The game now is all about skill and intelligence.”
“Sometimes his size works against him only until you realize he’s got everything else,” Sauter said.
Including the memories.