Spurgeon’s leadership and dedication has helped transform Wild

ST. PAUL — jared spurgeon‘s hockey story reads a lot like a Hollywood script.

Late-round pick is cast aside by the team that drafted him. Left for nothing on the scrap heap of failed selections, Spurgeon earned himself a ticket to development camp as a tryout, where he performed so well he earned himself a trip to the Traverse City Prospect Tournament, again as a tryout.

He performed so well there, he earned himself a shot at NHL training camp, and eventually an NHL entry level contract.

Too small, too slow, not physical enough… Spurgeon wouldn’t become just minor-league roster fodder. Only a couple of months after he wondered whether he’d ever make it in professional hockey, Spurgeon was making his NHL debut.

He hasn’t been sent back to the minors since.

Now 771 games into his NHL career, Spurgeon is an NHL captain and one of the best defensemen in franchise history.

Now in his second season wearing the ‘C,’ Spurgeon has been instrumental in helping to remake the Wild’s dressing room into one that new players have come to and immediately raved about for its closeness, its inclusivity and its positivity.

For his story and his work as captain, Spurgeon was nominated by the Twin Cities chapter of the Pro Hockey Writer’s Association Monday as the team’s nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, presented annually to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

The results speak for themselves as Minnesota’s close-knit group has re-written the club’s record books in 2021-22. The Wild’s 51 wins and 109 points are already the most in franchise history and three games remain in the regular season.

Long-standing franchise records like most goals, most assists and most points have been absolutely obliterated. The Wild, currently riding a 10-game point streak for the third time this season, are the first NHL team in more than two decades to have three 10-plus-game point streaks in a single campaign.

“Very humbling to receive the honor,” Spurgeon said. “But I think the team we have in general, the youth, the players that have been brought in, the different personalities that we have in there, it creates for a fun atmosphere, and obviously on the ice, as well, has been going well for us so far. It’s been a lot of fun the last couple of years.”

It’s almost difficult to believe how close Spurgeon’s journey was from never happening.

Selected by the New York Islanders with the 156th overall pick in the 2008 NHL Draft, Spurgeon was never signed and became available to every NHL team.

Despite a dynamic junior hockey career with the Spokane Chiefs in the Western Hockey League, for whatever reason, the Islanders decided to go a different direction.

“There was definitely a couple of weeks where I sort of, I don’t think I was pouting like I was done, I was more angry because I felt I had pretty good last year and a pretty good junior career, and just comparing to other players that were getting signed at that time, not just for the Islanders, but from the same draft time whether it be free agents, I felt myself that I could prove myself,” Spurgeon said. “Just wanted an opportunity. Obviously my agent Eustace King did a lot of hard work to try to sell myself to get a tryout here and then the trust that [former Wild GM Chuck Fletcher] gave me from the summer camp to be able to come back to Traverse City. We had a great team there and won the tournament, and I think that definitely helped.”

By 2010, Spurgeon was being called up to make his NHL debut in his home province of Alberta. On Nov. 29, 2010, Spurgeon took to the ice at the Saddledome in Calgary and he’s never looked back.

Spurgeon played in the AHL playoffs that season, but only after Minnesota’s season had ended short of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He’s never been sent back to the minors in-season.

It’s something Spurgeon said he still has trouble wrapping his mind around.

“To this day, every day you come you have to prove yourself, I feel, and you have to improve your game, and you can’t be satisfied with where you’re at,” Spurgeon said. “Definitely that first year I didn’t know if I was just going to get one game and then that’s done. But I was fortunate that Rick Wilson was willing to work with me and obviously Todd Richards was up here at that time, just giving me the opportunity.”

Over the past dozen years, Spurgeon has scored 99 goals, 344 points and is a plus-78. He’s tallied at least 10 goals in a season five times and has never been worse than a minus-6 in any of those years.

He’s currently a plus-30 this season, which would be his second season of posting at least a plus-30.

But more than the statistics, Spurgeon has led this group by example, a job where he’s been lauded for his work by both teammates and coaches.

“He’s just himself,” said Wild defenseman alex goligosky, who is in his first year with his hometown team. “He’s such an authentic person, he’s such a good guy and he wants this team and this organization to do well. It’s really that simple. He’s so authentic, and as a leader, you just want to play for him. He wants to pull guys along. We have a really focused group, and I’ve got nothing but great things to say about his leadership.”

That pride in the team that took a chance on him, the one that he now captains, is something Spurgeon does not take lightly.

“There’s one thing missing that I want to bring back to them for showing that faith,” Spurgeon said. “Obviously this year we’re in a position where right now we’re fighting for home ice for the playoffs. But also the feeling around the room and the excitement we have heading into playoffs as well.

“There’s been teams that we thought could go farther than they did. It’s so hard to win. It can be one bounce or one bad play that can end your season. We’ve had a good year so far but when it comes to playoffs it’s a whole new season so we’ve got to bear down and be ready for that.”

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