Jordan Spence has been all over the map, quite literally. From Australia to Japan to the Maritimes to Team Canada, Spence has shown a knack for acclimating himself on and off the ice.
Spence is an 18-year-old defenceman making his international debut, wearing the Maple Leaf with Canada’s National Men’s Under-18 Team at the 2019 IIHF U18 World Championship in Sweden.
“It’s an incredible feeling. It’s been one of my dreams when I was a child,” Spence says. “Obviously I’m a dual citizen, so if Canada didn’t go well I would have tried out for Team Japan but Team Canada was my first goal and getting an invitation is an honour.”
Born in Sydney, Australia, Spence moved to Japan soon after where he learned the game of hockey through his Canadian father. When Jordan was 13, the Spence family moved once again, this time to the other side of the world: from Osaka, Japan (with a population of roughly 2.7 million) to Cornwall, P.E.I. (less than 6,000).
As you can imagine, it was a huge adjustment. The hockey players were stronger, faster and more skilled, but the biggest change was the fact that young Jordan did not speak a word of English.
He exclusively spoke Japanese, so the only people he could communicate with were his parents. Trying to make new friends and learn from his new coaches was hard at first, but five years later it is impossible to tell that English is Spence’s second language.
Spence entered the 2017 QMJHL Entry Draft but was not among the 250 players selected. Some said Spence was undersized and his skating needed work. It was a disappointment to the blue-liner, who instead joined the Summerside Western Capitals of the Maritime Hockey League (MHL) and reunited with an old family friend.
“Not getting drafted motivated me to become a better player. That’s why I went to Junior A and stuff really happened from there,” Spence says.
Billy McGuigan, head coach of the Western Capitals, played minor hockey against Jordan’s father Adam when they were kids and the two have been friends ever since. When the Spences were living in Japan, Adam ran a student exchange of sorts for young hockey players and McGuigan even boarded a few in his home.
McGuigan saw the potential in Jordan but wasn’t sure if the 16-year-old could grind with the 20-somethings the MHL had to offer.
“The thing about Jordan Spence, the big thing about him, is when he wants something he really goes out and tries to get it,” says McGuigan.
“I for one thought it was a long shot as a coach and I wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to make the jump at 16 years old to Junior A. As the summer progressed, the conversation with Jordan was always ‘I am going to make your team.’”
Spence became Summerside’s top defenceman, logging big minutes in every situation. He put a heavy emphasis on improving his skating and proved the value he could have on both sides of the puck.
He earned MHL Rookie of the Year honours and once again entered the QMJHL draft. This time, the Moncton Wildcats selected him in the second round, 20th overall. All he did in Moncton was post 49 points in 68 games (ninth among QMJHL defencemen) and win another rookie of the year award.
From learning the game in Japan to playing junior hockey in Summerside and Moncton, Spence has been inserted in a number of diverse situations, excelling in all of them.
“He adapts to his situation, his surroundings, and does it very quickly and I think that is what makes him such a great player and such a great attribute to a hockey club,” McGuigan says.
Spence has been able to fit in no matter where he has gone by sticking to what he knows.
“To be honest, when I step on the ice I just don’t want to change my game,” he says. “That’s probably one of the important things when you go on the ice is stick to what you are. The results will come.”
They certainly have. Spence is ranked 59th among North American skaters for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, and is projected to go in either the second or third round in June. He is excited about the prospect of the combine and draft process but is staying focused on doing everything he can to give Canada a shot at gold in Sweden.
“His belief in himself is the greatest attribute he has,” says McGuigan. “The ceiling is very high for him. Each level he gets to, he just gets a little more hungry.”
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