Growing up in the city of champions, Tyler Spurgeon became quite familiar with the high expectations of Edmonton Oilers fans. Coincidentally, he finds himself toiling in a WHL city where expectations are also very high. After all, three straight trips to the Memorial Cup Championship for Kelowna can have a definite effect on any hockey community.
Late in the NHL’s 2004 Entry Draft, 242nd to be exact, the Oilers called his name. While Spurgeon has yet to be hailed as a ‘can’t miss prospect’, the opportunity to play professional hockey in his home town continues to motivate the feisty 19-year-old. And by the end of February, he’ll have played his 200th regular season game in the WHL.
The 5’10, 190-pounder brings a measure of grit and determination to an experienced Rockets lineup, although the Rockets were forced to play without that contribution for the first half of the season. A shoulder injury suffered in the playoffs last season required surgery this past summer. As a result, Spurgeon played his first game of the current campaign shortly after Christmas.
With three goals and nine assists in 24 games, Spurgeon feels he is finding his legs. Shortly after his return, the Rockets placed the ‘C’ on his jersey, in recognition of his valuable leadership skills.
Fans throughout the WHL’s B.C. and U.S. Divisions have taken notice now that Spurgeon has returned to the lineup. In a recent ‘Best of the West’ poll undertaken by the Tri City Herald newspapers, the fourth-year center was voted best faceoff man and top defensive forward.
Hockey’s Future spoke with Spurgeon after the club’s morning skate, prior to a tilt with the Spokane Chiefs in Kelowna.
HF: What are your feelings on the season so far, with the injury and your late start?
TS: It was tough coming in halfway through the season, tough doing the rehab during the first half of the season. I was excited to back into it in December and to get back into it with the guys.
HF: How did the injury occur?
TS: I got hit in the playoffs last year against Seattle and it became kind of recurring thing where the shoulder was dislocating, so it was something we knew we’d have to get fixed and the plan was to do it during the summer.
HF: The Rockets had a long run in last season’s playoffs. Seattle was a quarterfinal series. You played hurt?
TS: Well, lots of rehab in between games. I didn’t practice a lot, just kind of worked on the shoulder. When game time came, I just tried not to think about it too much. Scott Hoyer (Rockets trainer) did a great job taking care of me and making sure things felt as good as they could for the situation I was in.
HF: Lauris Darzins (NAS) was in the same boat after offseason shoulder surgery.
TS: That’s right. We did a lot of cardio together, a lot of bike riding and a lot of running. It was good to have a guy to talk to, you know, about how his shoulder was feeling and just kind of get some feedback that way.
HF: Soon after your returned to the lineup this season, you were named captain?
TS: I’ve always been placed in a leadership role and it’s an honor to be the captain in an organization that’s had so much success. There have been some great leaders here like Josh Georges, Ryan Cuthbert and Brett Palin, so it’s a great opportunity.
HF: The BC Division is really tightening up heading into the final 10-15 games. Does it seem as though you’re already in a playoff situation?
TS: I think in the end it’s going to make us better just by keeping us honest every night. We know every two points in our division is important and there are a lot of divisional games, so we have to be up for every game.
HF: What can you tell us about your Memorial Cup experiences?
TS: I’ve been very fortunate to have been part of some successful teams and to go to the Memorial Cup is a great feeling. Just to have an opportunity to play at that level and to win a championship was unbelievable. To get a taste of that, you know, you always want to get back there. I know that’s what we’re working toward here.
HF: If we can switch gears here, can you tell us about some of your minor hockey teams and coaches?
TS: I played bantam AAA with Canadian Athletic Club in Edmonton and then came straight to Kelowna and played as a 16-year-old. I played for Lee Fogolin in Edmonton, so it was a great experience to learn from a guy who had won Stanley Cups. He was such a great leader.
HF: How do you feel about your brother (Jared) playing his first WHL season with the Spokane Chiefs? Have you given him any advice?
TS: It’s exciting to see him out here at this level because he’s worked so hard and he’s a great player. But once you get on the ice against each other, you just go at it like it any other game. You know he’s out there, so you maybe play a little harder because you know he’s going to be pushing back. We keep in touch, just talking with him a lot about this being his first year in the WHL, about working his way into the lineup and how to work hard every day even if things aren’t looking that great or he’s not playing a lot. Eventually his chance will come and I think he’s gotten a lot of opportunities lately, especially playing the power play. So it’s been great for him.
HF: The junior hockey experience must be exciting for your entire family, too?
TS: We are a very tight knit family and I think Jared really enjoyed watching a lot of hockey in Kelowna and I loved having him here, especially when we won the Memorial Cup. I think it’s a thrill for him to be able to play in this building now (Prospera Place), playing against some of the guys he watched when he was 13 or 14 years old.
HF: How have you enjoyed your experience with the Oilers?
TS: I went to camp a couple seasons ago, but wasn’t able to participate in the last one with my shoulder injury. But I was actually in Edmonton, at home, skating and doing my rehab with the Oilers’ doctors. I skated with guys like Ryan Smyth and Shawn Horcoff. And also J.J. Hunter, who’s in the AHL now. He had his shoulder done, too, so I worked with him a lot to get in shape.
HF: Anything in particular the Oilers want you to improve upon?
TS: It’s important for me to keep getting faster, to get more speed to create more time and space out there for myself. I have to take care of my own end, but it’s also important to be creative offensively.
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