PATIENCE is sometimes the most valuable skill a young hockey player can work on in the minor leagues.
Such is the case for Boston Bruins prospect Ryan Spooner, who played against the Manchester Monarchs with the Providence Bruins at Verizon Wireless Arena Saturday night.
A center, Spooner is 5-foot-11, 181 pounds and 21 years old. He entered Saturday's game tied for the team lead in points with five on two goals and three assists through five games. After a strong training camp with Boston, Spooner thought he had a shot to make the big club.
"Going into camp you have that as your goal, but you also have to be realistic because they already had four centermen (in Boston)," Spooner said. "I tried to forget about that and play my game because if I went in there and thought, 'oh, there's no chance I'm going to make it,' then I probably wouldn't perform to the best of my ability. I tried to go in thinking 'I'm going to make this team.'"
After playing four games with Boston (with no points) last season, Spooner went to camp without the nerves he had experienced in the past.
"I think for the first time this year I felt really comfortable. I wasn't really nervous with the puck at all. I just wanted to make my plays," Spooner said. "I thought I had a good camp. Whenever you can be up there and learn from all the guys that play up there, it's a good thing."
The presence of centers Patrice Bergeron, Chris Kelly, Gregory Campbell, David Krecji and Carl Soderberg at center in Boston means that Spooner will have to work on that patience. But he has looked on the bright side and knows that playing in the AHL will help his game much more than sitting on the bench in the NHL.
"Playing in this league, you get to learn a lot and I play a lot down here and that's a good thing too. The coaching staff has been great with me. I was disappointed when I got sent down, but you have to look at the positives of it."
Spooner said that despite the point-per-game production so far, he's not been happy with his efforts on a nightly basis.
"I've had a couple games I haven't done the best in. But I've had some I played well in," Spooner said. "Right now I think I just need to focus on being more consistent game in and game out and go from there."
Another area Spooner was asked to work on by the Boston coaching staff was his work in the faceoff circle. It's all part of rounding the talented Spooner into an NHL-ready center.
"Faceoffs is one thing. They told me to work on those. I struggled with that a little in the exhibition games," he said. "They said just keep playing the way I am, use my speed and create plays and try to round out my game. I've had a couple games where I struggled and others where I've been good so I just need to focus game in and game out. I'm just trying to improve my game and if I get called up there I'll just perform."
PENGUINS SKATE IN : The Monarchs will host the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins today at 3 p.m. at the Verizon. The Penguins entered play against Worcester Saturday night with a 4-0-0 record.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton also brings to town two former Monarchs in goaltender Peter Mannino, who was with Manchester last season, and forward Tom Kostopoulos, who played in Manchester in 2004-5. He has played in 630 NHL games over a 14-year pro career.
Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.