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From Drayton to the NHL: Spaling, Cherrey took two very different paths

by Chris Daponte

DRAYTON - Earlier this year, this village was abuzz with excitement and anticipation as the 2010-11 National Hockey League playoffs got underway.

Residents in Drayton, and indeed many across Mapleton Township, were rooting heavily for the Nashville Predators. More specifically, they were pulling for one of their own, 23-year-old Drayton native Nick Spaling, a forward with the Predators.

Many local businesses placed signs of support in their windows and discussions at local eateries and shops often focused on the playoff hopes of the Predators and the stellar play of Spaling.

At the municipality’s first town hall meeting in late April, meeting moderator Bruce Schieck encouraged residents to be succinct so everyone could get home in time to watch “Nick” play.

“We’ve been blessed by the level of support from family and friends here in Drayton,” said Spaling’s mother Lorrie.

She added the support is appreciated by her son, who was well aware of what was happening in and around his hometown during the playoffs.

“It’s kind of like the whole town is behind you,” Spaling said in an interview from Drayton before the start of the 2011-12 season.

He said he received countless calls, emails and text messages of support from people in Drayton during the playoffs.

“It’s always cool to get support from people back home when you’re so far away,” he said.

One Drayton native from whom Spaling hears sporadically throughout the season is Scott Cherrey, now a linesman in the NHL.

The pair keep in contact via text message and even chat occasionally between whistles or after games when their paths cross on the ice during the NHL season.

“It’s pretty cool - obviously it doesn’t happen a lot,” Spaling said, alluding to the infrequency with which Cherrey is assigned Predators games.

But Spaling appreciates how rare it is to have two men from the same small village skating on an NHL ice surface at once - often thousands of kilometres away from home.

“It’s always nice to see a friendly face out there ... I think we’re lucky,” said Spaling.

Cherrey, who now lives in Kitchener with his wife Christa and their two children, said while there isn’t much time to talk, it is indeed special to share the ice with Spaling, who he noted is the first player from Drayton to make it to the NHL.

“We’ll always have that connection ... We’re both from Drayton and we’re proud of that,” Cherrey said in a phone interview last week from Florida, where he had just arrived to officiate a Nov. 4 game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning.

Cherrey and Spaling were both raised in Drayton, where their parents and many family members still reside, yet their respective routes to the NHL were very different.

Cherrey, 35, made the Jr. B Listowel Cyclones when he was 16 years old and in 1993 was drafted 3rd overall by the North Bay Centennials of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). He averaged 48 points per season his first three years in the OHL and was drafted in the second round (41st overall) by the Washington Capitals in the 1994 NHL draft.

But he never signed an NHL deal and later played for the University of New Brunswick, and had one season in the East Coast Hockey League, before quitting hockey.

Several years later, he got serious about the sport again, except this time as an official. He made a meteoric rise to the NHL in 2007 after just five years as a linesman.

“I’d be lying if I said it was my goal to make it to the NHL when I started officiating,” Cherrey told the Advertiser several years ago.

“But I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time and I’ve worked really hard to be the best official I can be.”

Cherrey was hired as a linesman by the NHL for the 2007-08 season under a 40-40 contract, which means he spent roughly half the season in the American Hockey League (AHL) and half in the NHL. After just one season, he was hired as a full-time NHL linesman, becoming the league’s youngest full-time official.

“It was pretty exciting to get that call and meet with the boss,” Cherrey said just days after being hired.

Earlier this year, he achieved an important milestone: officiating the first round of the NHL playoffs.

“I’ve been quite pleased with how much I’ve learned and progressed,” Cherrey said last week. He added his goal now is to just “keep working hard” to improve.

“[Officiating is] something I have a great passion for,” he added.

Spaling took the more conventional route to the NHL, though his junior career also began in Listowel.

After a solid season with the Jr. B Cyclones - 52 points in 61 games - Spaling was chosen in the 6th round (118th overall) of the 2005 OHL draft by the Kitchener Rangers.

Spaling spent the next three seasons with the Rangers, tallying 25, 59 and 72 points respectively.

He was named Kitchener’s rookie of the year for the 2005-06 season and also won the William Hanley Trophy in 2007-08 as the OHL’s most sportsmanlike player.

Spaling was also one of 37 players selected for Team Canada’s training camp for the 2008 World Junior Championships, but he was sent home early due to mononucleosis.

Selected 58th overall by the Nashville Predators in the second round of the 2007 NHL entry draft, Spaling spent the entire 2008-09 season with the Milwaukee Admirals (the Predators’ AHL affiliate), registering 35 points in 79 games.

He then split the 2009-10 season between Milwaukee and Nashville, scoring 20 total points.

Last year, his first full campaign in the NHL, Spaling tallied 14 points in the regular season, including his first career goal against the New York Islanders, which he said was a highlight of his season.

But by far the biggest highlight was the team’s run in the playoffs, during which Spaling seemed to thrive. He saw as much as 17 to 18 minutes of ice time per game down the stretch and registered six points and a plus-three rating in 12 games.

Nashville defeated the Anaheim Ducks 4-2 in the first round and Spaling’s second of two goals in game six was the game (and series) winner, sending the Predators franchise to the second round for the first time in its 12-year history.

“It was something special to be a part of,” Spaling said of the team’s playoff run, which ended after a second round defeat at the hands of eventual Stanley Cup finalists, the Vancouver Canucks.

“[Nashville] really supported us. There was a lot of excitement, that’s for sure.”

Spaling’s play earned him praise from coaches and teammates alike.

“He will do whatever it takes to help the team,” linemate Jerred Smithson told The Tenessean, a Nashville newspaper, after the Predators eliminated the Ducks.

“He just goes out there every shift, every night, and battles hard. He does all the little things right. For him to get the success he’s getting right now, it’s great to see.”

That success translated this summer into a two-year $2.1-million deal with the Predators. But more importantly, it also increased Spaling’s confidence, allowed him to feel more comfortable and helped with what he calls the “never-ending” process of improving his all-around play.

“Your game always improves with more confidence,” he said. “I want to try to become more of an impact player. Every year’s about proving yourself ... and earning more ice time.”

The ultimate goal, of course, is again making the playoffs and eventually winning the Stanley Cup.

One month into this season, the Predators were tied for ninth place in the Western Conference (one point out of the playoffs) and Spaling was  again dealing with the injury bug.

On Oct. 29 Spaling, who had registered 3 points in 10 games playing primarily on the Predators second line, was placed on the injured reserve with a “lower body injury” (his mother Lorrie said the groin injury wasn’t serious and her son hoped to return this week).

At the end of last season Spaling suffered a torn labrum and he spent much of this spring and summer recovering from surgery to repair his shoulder.

Yet several weeks before the start of this season’s training camp, he told the Advertiser he felt strong and had been working out and following his usual summer regimen for several weeks.

He was clearly enjoying his time in Drayton, however brief it may have been.

“I tried to spend as much time with my family and friends around here as I could,” he said. “It’s a pretty short summer to begin with.”

Despite a budding NHL career, the Drayton native hasn’t forgotten his roots. He is quick to credit his family for much of his success, particularly his older brother, Nathan.

“Growing up watching him, it made it easier for me going into different places and situations because he had already been there,” Spaling said.

He played alongside Nathan in Listowel and Nathan himself has enjoyed great success on the ice as the captain and all-time leading scorer for the University of Ontario Institute of Technology Ridgebacks.

“He kind of showed me the way and helped me out a lot,” Spaling said of his older brother.

Of course, he also credits his parents, Lorrie and Charlie, for helping him get to the NHL.

“My parents took time out to put me in hockey and get me everywhere. It was a big job,” he said.

Spaling added his parents still come to games when the team plays “anywhere close” and they also make occasional trips to Nashville. He said he remains close with his entire family, which also includes sisters Natasha and Nicole.

“It’s good to have such a close family that has always been there for me and is still supporting me,” Spaling said.

Cherrey, who said he is thankful for the support of his own family, said Spaling is setting a fine example for local youths.

“For a kid coming up now, what an inspiration it is to have a guy like Nick ... out there living the dream,” Cherrey said.

Both Cherrey and Spaling were recognized in a June ceremony with the unveiling of their jerseys in the place where it all began: the PMD Arena in Drayton.

“The whole night was a real honour,” Cherrey said. He noted he was very emotional when addressing the large crowd, which was estimated at close to 400 people.

“It was very humbling to have that many people out,” he said.

Having the two jerseys displayed in the arena is not only an honour for both him and Spaling, but it is also “a tribute to the people who have helped us along the way,” Cherrey added.

He hopes the jersey display will serve as motivation for kids visiting the arena from not only Mapleton Township, but all across Wellington County.

Spaling echoed that sentiment during the June ceremony.

“It’s an honour to have my NHL jersey displayed in my hometown,” Spaling told the crowd.

“I hope this can be an inspiration to the young kids that hard work and determination can pay off.”


November 11, 2011


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