Portage la Prairie, MB –
It was an emotional moment when Owen Spence heard his name called at the NHL Draft in Chicago. The Portage product was taken in the fifth round, 129th overall, and was quick to acknowledge his minor hockey coach for being the reason he made it.
“I can’t believe I got drafted in the NHL,” Owen Spence said. “I want to thank my parents and give a huge shout out to my peewee coach Shaun Hammerlick. Every time I play I can still hear Coach Hammer’s voice in my head telling me what to do. He only coached me for one year but he made me the player I am today.”
Shaun Hammerlick was an unlikely mentor, having played only two games of junior B hockey in his hockey career. He stepped up in Spence’s peewee year to coach when it became obvious it was the only way he could secure ice time for his own son.
“Owen is a great kid. Helluva defenceman. He played with my son Zach that whole peewee year. Zach got a lot of assists setting him up. I think they set some kind of record for most points by d-men at that level. Zach was probably a little better but he had bad knees or he could have made the NHL too.”
Hammerlick credits himself for teaching Spence how to skate, shoot, pass, hit, and employ proper gap control and stick position all in one year. Spence went on to be coached by some of the province’s top coaches and participated in the program of excellence and U-17 Team Canada but all those coaches took a back seat to Hammerlick.
“Anytime I get caught up ice and the puck goes the other way I can hear Coach Hammer yelling ‘Get back!’ Spence explained. “When a forward would come into our end he would yell ‘Take ‘Em’ or ‘Hit ‘Em!’ He’d even encourage me to ‘wheel’ when I’d get the puck in open ice. He knew what to do in every situation. He is a real inspiration.”
“On the power play you could hear his voice above all the fans telling me to shoot and then swear if I missed the net,” Spence said.
Spence and Hammerlick’s paths took different directions after that peewee year with Spence going the AAA route and Hammerlick staying in house-league with his son.
“Owen is a solid player,” Hammerlick said. “I know how hard it is to make that higher level. I always told the kids before the game about the time I got called up to junior B from the high school team. Then I’d remind them to get pucks deep and back check hard. I can see it made the difference in Owen’s game.”
Photo: Bill Heyman: https://www.flickr.com/photos/bytecoder/