WILMINGTON — Ryan Spooner was missing out.
Drafted fifth overall at age 16 in 2007 to the OHL’s Peterborough Petes, 3½ hours away from his hometown in Kanata, Ontario, Spooner left behind his family and girlfriend to pursue a burgeoning career. He even was absent from his high school graduation.
But with some perspective, the mood quickly changed.
“It was weird how that works,” Spooner said. “You move away, the first week or two you miss being at home, and in the back of your mind you always miss it. But as it goes on, you know what your goals are, you know what you’re trying to do. As an athlete, that’s part of the job. Obviously the pros outweigh the cons by a lot.”
The sacrifices have paid off, at least so far. Picked 45th overall by Boston in 2010, the forward, now 20 years old, is among those with an outside shot at making the Bruins’ roster. Alongside Jared Knight, also drafted in 2010, Spooner likely will start the season in Providence, where he and Knight plan to room together.
A recurring theme for Spooner throughout his journey has been keeping close those he cherishes most. Even when he fled the nest as a teenager, bound for a host family and a new city, his parents were always a phone call or the occasional weekend visit away.
“Without my family there, it would have been really tough,” Spooner said. “You get to do a lot of cooking on your own, which I actually don’t mind. I cook for myself, even when I’m at home when my mom’s there. She doesn’t like that too much. She likes to baby me still.”
The distances have been sporadic ever since. A 3½-hour drive to Peterborough got shaved in half when he played for the Kingston Frontenacs, and then ballooned to eight hours when he got traded to Sarnia on Jan. 5.
“It was a good blend for me,” Spooner said. “I got the feeling for being a middle distance from home, then very close to home, then to the point where I didn’t really come home at all. I think having that mixture was really good for me, and it’ll go a long way next year.
“If you were just thrown into the fire, leaving from home, you might get kind of homesick.”
Spooner played in five games for Providence last season, recording one goal and three assists. In 57 games between Kingston and Sarnia, he had 66 points. Now he comes to his third Bruins development camp at Ristuccia Arena, seeking another chance to pack up a Boston-bound U-Haul.
“Obviously, I want to make Boston, but they have a great team, they have so much depth right now that I’m going to go into camp and play my best and see what happens,” Spooner said. “You just have to go out there and play your game. If you try to change things up and do things you usually don’t do, that’s when you get into trouble.”
Spooner, at 5 feet 10 inches and 172 pounds, has been working on his strength this summer, the subject of skepticism among scouts. On Canada’s U18 squad, a teammate remarked that Spooner looked like the stick boy. He vividly remembers getting jammed into the glass by Bridgeport’s 6-6 captain, which served as a wake-up call.
But his stick skills and attention to detail away from the puck have drawn rave reviews so far from the Bruins staff.
“He’s starting to become more of a student of the game,” Providence coach Bruce Cassidy said. “A year older, he wants to know, positionally, where to be, have a good stick, the things he’s going to need to do when the offense dries up in spurts. Shoots the puck better than he did a year before.
“You see him now, when he walked through the door two years ago, he looked like a 14-year-old kid. Now at least he’s got a little peach fuzz on his face, starting to look a little like a man now.”
With all the moves, on the road and on the ice, Spooner already has grown up faster than most.Alex Prewitt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt.