Four years ago Justin Falk and Jared Spurgeon weren’t old enough to drink a beer in the United States.
But the Canadian hockey players – who spent over half of their teenage years in Spokane, living with host families, spending countless hours on buses, and manning the blue line for the Spokane Chiefs – were young and talented enough to win the coveted Memorial Cup.
“It seems like yesterday that we had that life-changing, incredible year in Spokane,” said Falk. “It’s still one of my most exciting years as a player.”
These days Spurgeon and Falk, both now married and Spurgeon with a 2-year-old son, are chasing a different piece of prized hockey hardware – of the Lord Stanley variety. The two are now full-time defensemen for the NHL’s Minnesota Wild, as Falk just re-upped his contract with the franchise this summer.
After making a splash this offseason by landing the two highest-profile free agents in the league – Zach Parise and Ryan Suter – the Wild have, in theory, gone from treading water in the talent pool to swimming alongside every other team that has been issued early Cup-contender status heading into the season.
Parise, who hails from Minnesota, was captain of the New Jersey Devils, who lost this year’s Stanley Cup Final. Suter is considered one of the top 10 defensemen in the league and is the son of Bob Suter, who won a gold medal with the 1980 U.S. Olympic team.
“There’s nothing better than being excited for the season,” said Spurgeon. “When you can get players of that caliber without giving anything up it’s a good day and we have a lot of work to do but I think it’s going to be an exciting year in Minnesota.”
That doesn’t mean the former Chiefs have forgotten where they came from.
Perhaps partially for practical reasons Falk hung on to his old 509 area code. But it seems there are also sentimental reasons.
“(Spurg) and I spent a lot of years in Spokane,” he said. “We always rode the bus together as rookies, we were stallmates for awhile, and even now we sit by each other on the planes. (Carolina Hurricanes forward Drayson Bowman) and Spurg were my first good friends that I stuck with there.
“You run into those guys – you visit – and those memories come back. Everything comes back like it happened five minutes ago.”
Then there are those memories that, for whatever reason, seem a bit fuzzy to both Falk and Spurgeon. Such as Spurgeon’s NHL debut.
According to an article published in the Minneapolis StarTribune, when Spurgeon was called up from the Wild’s American Hockey League franchise in Houston on his 21st birthday in 2010, Falk paid the price and had to sit out that night.
“I woke up to that phone call on my birthday – that was a nice surprise,” Spurgeon recalled. “It was a big rush and there wasn’t too much time to think about it. I don’t remember much – it was just surreal to have that happen.”
When it comes to all of Falk’s and Spurgeon’s “surreal” moments, though, there’s one that would be a dream, within a dream, come true.
“(Winning the Stanley Cup) is obviously your goal and your dream growing up as a hockey player,” said Spurgeon.
“It would be pretty incredible,” Falk added. “The first half of last season we had was really great but unfortunately we fell off. But adding a couple more pieces over the summer, I’m really excited at the possibilities – and to do it with a close friend would mean that much more.”
Cheers to that.