Spooner credits Julien’s tough love for current success
Over the past month, Bruins forward Ryan Spooner has emerged into a versatile, top six forward for the team. With an assist in his team’s 6-2 loss to the Ducks Tuesday, Spooner now has assists in four straight games and has 15 points (2g; 13a) in his last 14 games. He is third on the team with 37 points.
It’s been a work in progress for the 23-year old center who was drafted 45th overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. But now, after spending the majority of his first three pro seasons with the Providence Bruins in the AHL, Spooner appears to have found a spot on the Boston roster and is one of the reasons, the Bruins were able to stay in playoff contention when top center David Krejci recently missed ten games with an upper body injury.
Ironically, on Tuesday, Spooner credited Bruins head coach Claude Julien for his current success and development. Spooner was fielding questions from a media scrum after the loss to Anaheim and with the all star break here, there were plenty of questions asking him to personally reflect on the season thus far and to look ahead at what the Bruins need to do to stay in the playoff picture after the break.
Spooner repeatedly cited how he and his teammates know they can be more consistent but were proud that thus far they had proved the naysayers, who didn’t have them sniffing the playoffs this season, wrong. Then with that theme in mind, Spooner was asked what he thought of his coach doing the same thing, since many predicted Julien would likely be fired long before the all star break?
“He’s been great. I mean, yeah, he’s a great coach,” Spooner said before pausing with a pensive look on his face.
“Last year, you know, things with me and him weren’t, I guess the best, but he was hard on me and I think that was the best thing actually,” Spooner acknowledged. “He kind of made me realize that I needed to play better, and the team, when we’re not playing good, he kind of does the same thing there. So if we play well, then he’s happy, but if we’re not, he can be hard on us, which I think is the best thing. Sometimes you don’t really want a coach that points out all the positives when you lose. He needs to, I guess, be a little bit tough on you and I think that definitely helps us out, for sure.”
Now remember, one of the constant critiques of Julien — at least with media and fans in Boston — is that he doesn’t like to give young players enough of a leash and that he calls them out too often. There were plenty who laid blame on Julien’s handling of Tyler Seguin for the organization’s failure to develop him into the superstar Seguin’s become in Dallas after being traded there in 2013. Julien is a coach who wants all his players to pride themselves in sound defense and two-way play. That’s why, just as he did when Seguin displayed exceptional offensive skill but slacked in the defensive zone, Julien has never looked past a lack of commitment defensively with Spooner, even when the crafty center has produced offense.
“He’s such a good skater,” Julien said of Spooner following a preseason game in 2014 that Spooner scored in. “But there’s times he just back-checks slowly. He could be back-checking better. If you score a goal and give up two, you’re not really helping your team.”
There have been times this season where Julien expressed the same sentiments but instead of taking it personally and letting it affect his play, Spooner has grown a thicker skin by taking the criticism to heart and learning from it. Spooner believes that’s a main reason he’s found a regular spot on the roster this season.
“I mean my last four, actually three, years here, I’ve been up and I’ve been down. So I’ve learned that it’s a business here and you have to play well, and that’s just kind of my focus,” he said. “I just want to go out there, and I just want to help out, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
So far that new-found appreciation for Julien’s tough love by Spooner has led to consistent success at both ends of the ice for the young and gifted center, and thankfully for a team that needs any semblance of consistency, it’s come at the perfect time.