BY DAN MCNEE
WATERLOO – It’s never easy to uproot yourself from a comfortable and familiar setting, but Nick Spaling is excited about the change of scenery.
The former Listowel Junior Cyclone and Drayton’s hockey star will be pulling on a different white and gold jersey for the 2014-15 campaign, after being moved by the Nashville Predators to the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first round of the NHL Entry Draft on June 28 in Philadelphia. Spaling was part of the biggest deal of the day, as he and fellow Predator Patric Hornqvist were dealt in exchange for former 40-goal scorer James Neal.
“It was exciting,” Spaling told Banner Sports. “There was a little bit of mixed emotions for sure, it being my first trade. But to join the organization and the team they have now is a pretty big deal for me.”
Nashville selected the 6’1”, 200-pound centre in the second round (58th overall) of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. Spaling, who turns 26 on Sept. 19, recorded 40 goals and 84 points in 297 career games with the defensive-minded Predators, also contributing nine points in 28 playoff games.
But with Nashville missing the last two post-seasons and Pittsburgh unable to re-establish the form that won them their third Stanley Cup in 2008-09, changes were imminent for both teams. The Penguins acquire more scoring depth and a terrific penalty-killing talent in Spaling, as well as a top-six forward in Hornqvist, and the Predators receive the high-scoring winger that has eluded them since the team’s inception in 1997.
“I loved it there,” said Spaling of his time in the Music City. “It was a great city – they drafted me and it was a great place to start out. They have a great organization of coaches and staff.
“I took a lot away from there; it was a great experience for me in my life.”
Shortly after the trade was announced, Spaling received an unexpected call. The voice on the other end of the line claimed it was reigning Hart and Art Ross trophy winner Sidney Crosby, something that Spaling had trouble believing at first – until he realized it was in fact his new captain.
“I thought it was a prank from one of my buddies,” laughed Spaling. “It was nice of him to give me a call and welcome me.”
NHL training camps gets underway in approximately two weeks time, and Spaling is anxious for the opportunity to prove himself on his new team and contribute to Pittsburgh’s offence on a nightly basis. His ability to play all three forward positions will no doubt play an important role with the Penguins, who rely heavily on Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin for the lion’s share of their scoring.
“It’s usually a tough process,” said Spaling of heading into an NHL camp. “They want to make sure everybody is prepared for the season ahead. I’m doing my best to get ready and be prepared.”
The 2014-15 season also marks the 10-year anniversary of Listowel’s only Cherrey Cup victory, of which Spaling was an integral part.
Spaling had previously gone undrafted in the Ontario Hockey League after his minor midget season, but after putting up an impressive 25 goals and 52
points for the Cyclones during their championship season in 2004-05, he was taken in the sixth round (118th overall) of the OHL Priority Draft that spring by the Kitchener Rangers.
Spaling would go on to have a terrific career with the Rangers, scoring at nearly a point-per-game pace (71 goals and 156 points in 179 games) over three full seasons with the club. During Kitchener’s 2007-08 playoff run, Spaling put up 30 points in 20 games as the Rangers won the OHL championship. He then registered eight points during the Memorial Cup before Kitchener lost to the Spokane Chiefs on home ice in the final.
Spaling said that any time he is asked to speak at a hockey engagement, he always recalls with fondness the 2004-05 Cherrey Cup victory, and how it was one of the catalysts for launching his successful junior and then professional career.
“Playing in Listowel was some of the most fun I’ve ever had,” he said. “We had a great group of guys and to pull it out to win the championship for our league was really special.
“It was a real growing year for me. That was my biggest year of hockey.”