Spurgeon Quietly Steps Into Leadership Role
On and off the ice, Jared Spurgeon doesn’t fit the mold of a tough, stalwart defenseman.
He’s soft spoken, laid back and has an overall mellow vibe that might be found on the beaches of Hawaii or California — not an ice rink in the middle of the State of Hockey. But Spurgeon will be the first to tell you that’s just who he is.
That easy-going personality has helped the Edmonton-native establish himself as a consistently reliable defenseman in only his fourth season in Minnesota. His cool, quiet demeanor only lends itself to his continuing development.
“I try and just learn as much as I can by listening to everyone around me,” Spurgeon said. “I’d rather be listening than talking, and take it in.”
In 13 games this season, Spurgeon is averaging just under 22 minutes of ice time at 21:56, third on the team behind NHL leader Ryan Suter (28:54) and Jonas Brodin (23:14). That average is given a bump partially due to his promotion to the top power play unit alongside Suter, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Jason Pominville, and his ability to stay out of the penalty box. Over 175 career games, Spurgeon has racked up just 16 penalty minutes — this season alone Zenon Konopka leads the Wild with double the time spent in the sin bin.
“He’s just a smart player with a great stick,” Head Coach Mike Yeo said. “He’s always in good position. He’s a lot stronger than people realize. You get into one-on-one battles with this kid and he’s going to win the majority of his battles.”
Spurgeon’s surprising strength on the ice may be hidden by his stature. At 5-foot-9, 168 pounds, he weighs in as the shortest and lightest member of the Wild. He, of course, likes to use it to his advantage.
“It sort of helps me out; I can surprise people,” Spurgeon said with a laugh. “My center of gravity is a bit lower too so I try and make myself harder to knock off the puck. I just don’t want to shy away from physical play. I know I can help out with separating guys from the puck.”
As such, Spurgeon hopes opponents don’t catch onto his surprise factor any time soon. While Spurgeon saves his surprises for opposing teams, he rarely leaves Yeo bewildered—mainly because of his consistency in execution. It has become a staple of the 24-year-old, even becoming a leader on the ice.
“His execution is a key for our team,” Yeo said. “He’s been a real leader for us in that area all season long. Especially with some of the things we’ve been trying to talk about, some of the things we’ve been trying to work on — our puck possession game, gaining more speed through the neutral zone, the defense being a part of the attack — he’s a guy that shows up in a lot of those clips.”
While being that leader isn’t something Spurgeon is concentrating on, specifically, he said his level of execution comes with the territory of a puck-moving defenseman. But, as a result, the young blueliner has become a noted force offensively on the Wild, with five points on a goal and four assists this season —behind Suter with seven (0-7=7) and Brodin with six (3-3=6).
Even though he’s getting into the act offensively, the key to Spurgeon’s game is keeping things simple.
“I try not to be too fancy,” Spurgeon said. “I try to make plays and get the puck to the forwards and let them do their thing. If I’m able to find a hole to jump into I will gladly do it. I like to get into the offensive side of the game as well, but I try not to sacrifice defensively at the same time.”
One of the sacrifices Spurgeon is willing to make: risking his body to do whatever it takes to ensure the puck doesn’t go in the net. On several occasions this season, Spurgeon has come to his goaltender’s rescue and making a last-ditch effort to keep the puck out of the Wild’s net.
Against Nashville on Oct. 22, Spurgeon saved what would have been a game-tying Matt Cullen goal. The puck snuck by goaltender Josh Harding, who was kneeling on the outside of the crease. He turned around to look for it, but Spurgeon swooped in behind him, clearing the puck before it drifted over the goal line.
Between listening to those around him, taking everything in and keeping his game simple, Spurgeon has solidified himself into a unique leadership role that seems beyond his years. But with the likes of Suter, Keith Ballard and Clayton Stoner around him, he doesn’t see himself that way.
“You sort of look up to them and everything that they do,” Spurgeon said of the veteran blue liners. “I don’t really notice how long I’ve been here either but we do have some younger guys that are playing and I guess they’re sort of watching me at the same time. I really don’t think of it as being a veteran-type thing. I just go out there and do what I do.”