TORONTO– Forward Spencer Abbott has always had to prove a little bit extra to earn a spot on any hockey team he’s ever played for.
At 5’10” and 170 pounds, the Hamilton native doesn’t fit the typical mold of the common day hockey player.
He was over looked as a 15 year old for the OHL draft because of his size and ended up playing four seasons in the OJHL. He was then passed on for the NHL draft as well, but that didn’t stop the Toronto Maple Leafs from giving him an opportunity.
“He’s at a different level of his development,” said Leafs’ VP of hockey operations Dave Poulin about why the 24-year-old’s size isn’t a concern. “He’s a mature kid. Even though stature of physical size may not be there, there is some of that man strength.”
“He’s proved it over the course of four years in the NCAA, a pretty good league. A league where a kid like (Chris) Kreider played, Spencer Abbott was the leading scorer.”
While Kreider was a first round selection of the New York Rangers in 2009, Toronto signed Abbott in March after he completed his fourth and final season at the University of Maine.
As a senior he led the NCAA with 21 goals and 62 points in just 39 games played and was named a finalist for the Hobey Baker award as the nation’s top player. He was also the fifth Black Bear player to earn Hockey East Player of the Year, joining the likes of former Maine stand-out Paul Kariya.
Abbott believes his ability to overcome adversity at each level of hockey comes down to knowing his surroundings and finding what works best for himself.
“You just gotta know what guys are on the ice any given time, know who you’re playing with and work with what you got,” he said.
“And I’m always trying to be shifty. I’ve always tried to be shifty, get the first steps out of the way to get ahead. And as a smaller guy you can use your size to your advantage and get under guys.”
Abbott joined the Toronto Marlies’ roster upon signing with the parent-club Leafs and, after spending most of his time only practicing with the AHL club, he’s finally seeing some playoff action in the Western Conference Finals.
“It’s a faster pace and a lot more physical,” said Abbott about the difference between pro playoff hockey and NCAA post season. “Always have to have your head up.”
Abbott first saw action in Game 3 versus the Oklahoma City Barons when Toronto’s roster started feeling the affects of injury.
“A lot of guys went down and there’s not much to choose from right now,” Abbott joked. “But you always have to be ready.”
He also suited up in Game 4 and, despite not having a significant role yet, he has held his own with most of his playing time coming on the bottom-six and power play.
“I thought he did his best,” said a modest Marlies’ head coach Dallas Eakins about Abbott’s first taste of AHL competition.” Those first few shifts, that’s about as hard-hitting hockey as you can get and I think he got his eyes opened to professional playoff hockey pretty quickly.”
Abbott’s deal with the Leafs is only for one year, and doesn’t technically kick in until next season.
He’ll have every opportunity next fall to fight for a spot on the big club, although until then he will fill whatever role is requested as the Marlies inch closer to the Calder Cup Finals.
With a 3-1 series lead over the Barons, Abbott will likely stay in the banged-up line up for Game 5, which goes Friday in Toronto.