|Spencer Asuchak, shown here with the CHL's Allen Americans, has signed|
a PTO with the NHL's Boston Bruins.
(Photo courtesy Spencer Asuchak)
Spencer Asuchak had waited most of his 22-plus years on this earth for THE phone call.
It came last month, and now he’s preparing for a taste of the big time.
After being part of a Central Hockey League championship with the Allen Americans, Asuchak, who is from Kamloops, has signed a PTO (professional tryout agreement) with the Boston Bruins and will attend the NHL team’s rookie camp in September.
It all began with that phone call. On the other end of the line was Don Sweeney, the Bruins’ assistant general manager.
“It was about how well my season went and how they would like me to come to camp,” Asuchak said. “As you could imagine, I was pretty emotional after receiving a call like that.
“I have been waiting my entire life for an opportunity like this. I feel like I’ve definitely earned it and am going to do absolutely whatever I can to take full advantage of the chance I’m being given to prove myself and earn a spot within the Bruins organization.”
In hockey circles, it often is said that the deeper a team gets into its playoff season, the better chance its players have for advancement. The theory is simply the opposite of out of sight, out of mind.
Asuchak played in the WHL with the Tri-City Americans and Prince George Cougars (2008-12). Late in 2011-12, he got into three games with the ECHL’s Ontario Reign, then chose to attend Mount Royal College in Calgary for a year.
Through it all, he wasn’t able to rid himself of the itch to play professionally, so he signed with the Americans, who play out of Allen, Texas.
The 6-foot-5, 232-pound Asuchak has always seen himself as a hockey player. According to his agent, Darren Hermiston of Points West Sports and Entertainment, that wasn’t always the way coaches saw him.
“Spencer is a hulking forward,” Hermiston said, “and, as sometimes happens in junior hockey with players that size, he was pigeon-holed into a specific role -- a north-south winger who needs to hit and fight and not do much else. This role was not ideal for Spencer's skill set, but no junior coach saw that.”
Hermiston, like Asuchak, is from Kamloops. One thing led to another and Hermiston now represents Asuchak.
“We were able to find him a situation with the Allen Americans where the coach (Steve Martinson) loved Spencer's size and skating ability and was willing to gave him a shot,” Hermiston said.
According to Hermiston, Martinson “realized what junior coaches didn't . . . that Spencer and his great skating ability should be given an opportunity at centre and in a different role than the one that hadn’t worked out overly well for the better part of five years.”
Asuchak has always taken pride in his conditioning, so he showed up in Allen ready to go. He did get off to a shaky start -- he had three points and was minus-3 through nine games. But then he was moved to centre and, yes, the move agreed with him. Not only did he begin to put up points, but Martinson turned to him as his club’s shutdown centre.
“He played against the opposition’s top lines and was a first-line penalty-killer,” Hermiston said, “and won 60 per cent of his faceoffs.”
While playing centre, Asuchak put up 53 points in 57 games and was plus-6. He had 18 points over his final nine regular-season games. In all, he had 56 points, 21 of them goals, in 66 games. He also led the CHL with five shorthanded goals and twice was the league’s player of the week.
He added 11 points, four of them goals, as the Americans went on a 17-game run to the CHL title.
“Winning the championship in Allen was definitely the most fun I’ve ever had,” Asuchak said. “So many amazing people and teammates were involved . . . friends and memories I will never forget. Being able to hoist the trophy over my head with a group of guys that you’d do absolutely anything for was amazing and there is no better feeling.”
What made it that much sweeter was that it was Asuchak’s “first championship at any level.”
After giving it some thought, he allowed that “I do think I won a B.C. roller hockey championship when I was about 14 playing for the Prince George Reapers . . . if that counts.”
The exposure that Asuchak received in 2013-14, combined with his size and skating ability, has paid off. The Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks have combined to win the last four NHL titles and the foundation of each of those teams is its strength up the middle.
As Hermiston put it, “every NHL general manager now wants to be ‘big and heavy down the middle.’ ” That is right up Asuchak’s alley.
“So after a few conversations with Don Sweeney, we were able to secure a PTO for Spencer to attend the Bruins’ rookie camp in September with the goal of earning an entry-level contract,” Hermiston said.
Asuchak, who never has been a stranger to off-ice conditioning, now is working hard to get ready for camp, even if it is almost two months away. Like many athletes in the Kamloops area, and as he has done in the past, he is working with Greg Kozoris at Kozoris Acceleration.
If you’re looking for Asuchak, chances are that you’ll find him there. He said his days comprise sprints at 7 a.m., soccer at 8 and then up to three hours of weight training. He does that five or six days a week, and also finds time to skate three or four times a week. On the ice, he has been working with Aaron Konescni, a Kelowna-based power-skating coach; Ron Johnson, a skills coach from Vancouver who works with various NHLers; and former pro Ed Patterson, the head coach of the junior B Kamloops Storm, who runs practice sessions.
Asuchak’s training group includes the likes of the Nash brothers, Brendon and Riley, Shane Doan, the afore-mentioned Blair Riley, Peter Mueller, Tyler Redenbach, Casey Pierro-Zabotel, Devin Gannon, James Friedel and Ryan Gropp.
“Our training group is pretty good . . . so the pace is very high and very competitive,” Asuchak said.
In past summers, Asuchak often would find time for the lake and a few golf games.
This summer is different.
“There’s not really much time for anything else,” he said.
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