Spencer Foo has an air of confidence about him.
And at 24, with many of the Flames on a journey halfway around the world, he looks right at home roaming the halls of the Scotiabank Saddledome
“I don’t think my mindset this year has changed any – but my game has,” Foo says. “It’s matured.
“I think if I’m able to bring what I’ve learned over the past year, play my game and not try to do anything out of the ordinary, my chances are pretty good.”
Foo, a former AJHL standout-turned NCAA star and, eventually, the hottest collegiate free agent of his time, is entering Year 2 of the NHL Dream and has every intention of turning a brief stint with the big club last year into full-time work this time around.
“Every guy out here has that same goal,” Foo says. “We all have to prove ourselves and earn the right to make the jump to the next level.
“If you play well enough, you’ll get your chance.
“That’s what I have to do.”
CalgaryFlames.com writer Ryan Dittrick sat down with the former Hobey Baker finalist to chat about the path to becoming a full-time Flame.
DITTRICK: Rookie camp has just finished up and you have a couple of games under your belt. How are you feeling?
FOO: Feeling good. It’s been a good camp so far. It seems like everybody’s got a jump in their step. It’s exciting time of year.
DITTRICK: You finished the season with the Flames last year, scored twice, and you’re coming back into more of a rookie-camp setting now. Has that been beneficial for you, to loop back on some of the systems and the development side of things before jumping right into the pre-season?
FOO: Yeah, for sure. Rookie camp is great, even to just get your feet in the water before main camp really starts. These are really good players out here; the organization has a lot of really good prospects, so the pace and the competition has been really good. When you’re still relatively new to the organization and want to make an impact and push for a job, that’s what you want. You need the competition to be high and to skate alongside talented players. I’m pushing them and they’re pushing me.
DITTRICK: Last year was obviously a big year for you personally, getting a full year in the American League and a brief taste in the NHL. How did you feel when you first made that jump to the pro ranks, and then throughout the season, when you started finding your legs offensively?
FOO: Honestly, it felt like two different seasons. It was obviously a bit of an adjustment coming from college and getting used to the pace of the pro game. It’s funny. No matter what you’ve done in your career, no matter how hard you work and prepare yourself for that jump, nothing really translates to the actual feel of the game. It was a big challenge. Things started a bit slow for me in the American League and that can be a bit frustrating when you’re an offensive guy and used to putting up points, but I stuck with it. I kept working. I had some great teammates behind me that helped me out along the way, and that really helped me find my footing. Once I did that, I felt great. I felt like I could really contribute at that level. Most importantly, I started to gain more confidence. Once you have that and your performances are backing it up consistently, you’re in a good place.
DITTRICK: You mentioned that you had some teammates that were good sounding boards for you in Stockton. Who, in particular, helped you out with the transition and some of those early jitters?
FOO: We had such a great leadership group in Stockton. Guys like Rod Pelley, Luke Gazdic… Those guys were really helpful for me to learn the game down there. But even the younger guys there, too, like Mang (Andrew Mangiapane), Hath (Garnet Hathaway) and Janks (Ryan Jankowski), they showed me the way as well. I played on a line with those guys at some point during the year, and they were great in helping me learn the pro game.
DITTRICK: And now, during camp, you’re all up here together…
FOO: It’s cool to be able to build friendships and to be able to go through this journey together. One of the big reasons I wanted to come to Calgary was because of the quality of players they had in the organization — some really special, talented guys. Not only did I feel they were close to winning, but they had great character guys, too. That’s such an important and sometimes underrated part of the game. I think being able to build chemistry from the American League on up is crucial.
DITTRICK: Take me through your NHL debut.
FOO: Well, it was pretty amazing to get the call in the first place. I think I had a strong second half of the season in Stockton and really earned that opportunity, but it was still a bit of a shock. I mean, it’s something you dream about since you’re a kid. For my debut to come against Edmonton in the Battle of Alberta, Hockey Night in Canada, that was incredible. My family and friends were all there supporting me we ended up getting the win. I don’t think I did a whole lot that night (chuckles) but it was good to get my feet wet and really experience the NHL game. Being on the same ice as Connor McDavid, you feel it right away, that’s for sure.
DITTRICK: Was that your pinch-me moment? Sharing the ice with a guy like that?
FOO: I think I had a few. That was definitely one. I’d actually met McDavid before, but being at ice level and seeing what he can do out there at top speed, that definitely wakes you up. But I played on the same line as Johnny (Gaudreau) that night, so there was no shortage of talent out there. Playing with and against those guys, it pushes you to be better. I thought I skated pretty well and had a few looks. In the moment, you’re not thinking too much, but it definitely sunk in afterward.
DITTRICK: You obviously won’t be playing with Johnny for the first few games of the pre-season with a lot of guys over in China, but you ARE going to be getting some pretty good opportunities in the meantime. What’s your mindset like knowing you’re going to get top-line minutes, power-play time, and really have a chance to showcase yourself offensively as you look to make the team out of camp?
FOO: It’s huge. Staying back, guys can take that in a lot of different ways. For me, it’s all about making the most of the opportunities I’m given. You’re right; I’m going to be getting a ton of ice time — likely more than I’ve ever played at this level, pre-season or not. The biggest thing is probably establishing some good habits and confidence early on, before those guys come back. I definitely want to play well and show what I can do while they’re gone, but I also know the competition is going to ramp up when they return. I have to make sure I’m playing to my potential and prove that I can still play in those roles when we have a bigger group later in the camp.
DITTRICK: It was obviously a busy summer around here; plenty of changes and new additions brought in to bolster the team up front. What, specifically, do you think you have to focus on or improve on to ensure you’re at your peak at the right time to earn a spot?
FOO: Honestly, I’m just focusing on being the best player I can be. It’s all about finding ways to contribute and be valuable to your team. The worst thing I can do is overthink things and try to incorporate things into my game I know won’t work.
DITTRICK: Is it really that simple?
FOO: I think it is. I have to believe in myself, believe in my abilities, and trust in the process that’s gotten me here. That’s part of what makes it so exciting. It’s going to be a battle.