15/04/2024

Jordan Spence in action with the Ontario Reign in the AHL. (Photo: Abbotsford Canucks)

History was made in the NHL on Thursday night, as Jordan Spence became the first Australian-born player to take part in an NHL game.

A mid-season game not broadcast on national television between one team well out of play-offs and one team firmly in it would not usually gather the attention of people outside of the respective fan bases.

This was not the case on Thursday night (Friday afternoon AEDT), as the Los Angeles Kings selected Australian born Jordan Spence, who also holds Japanese citizenship, to make his NHL debut due to several injuries.

This would mark the first time that an Australian born player and the first time a skater with Japanese citizenship (goaltenders are not considered skaters) has played in the NHL, although Spence has not represented Australia at a national team level. He did play two games as part of the 2021 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships for Canada, scoring once.

While Nathan Walker, who is an Australian and has represented the Australian national team in international competition, has played for three different teams in the NHL, he was not born in Australia. He was born in Cardiff, Wales, which is why Spence made history on two fronts in this game.

Spence has put up 42 points (four goals, 38 assists) from 46 games with the Kings American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Ontario Reign, making him the second-highest scoring defenseman and fifth in assists across all players in the AHL.

“I wouldn’t even use the word good, I would use the word great,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said of Spence.

“He’s having a great season down there, for a rookie defenseman, a guy that had to adapt, size-wise, to pro hockey, he’s done a really good job of it.

“He’s been able to run the power play, he’s been able to create offense down there without sacrificing any of his defensive responsibilities. Having a tremendous season, deserves an opportunity to play his first, and maybe more games in the league.”

Despite the absence of Drew Doughty, who was described as having a “day-to-day” injury, McLellan was confident that Spence would be able to set-up to replace some of what the Kings have lost.

“Well, we lost a power-play guy, a quarterback, we lost a puck mover and those are two of his best attributes in the American League right now,” he said.

“Looking at the beginning of his season, there were some nights he wasn’t even dressing because they had so many D down there. Now, he’s their go-to guy in those situations, so we feel he could replace what we’ve lost.”

The game itself was an unfortunate night for the Kings, as the San Jose Sharks would leave with a victory, 4-3 in overtime.

Spence would accumulate a total of 14:23 on the ice, across 20 shifts, with two shots and two hits, and a +/- of 0, meaning he was not on the ice for any goals for or against.

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“Obviously, it’s emotional,” Spence said when speaking with the media about his first experience in the NHL.

“You play hockey to be at the next level in the NHL, and having that moment, going for the warm-ups especially, it was nerve-wracking, but also excitement.

“Playing in the game, I was just trying to take it all in, but you know, trying to focus on the game as well.

“Overall, it was an amazing experience, but it was a tough loss tonight, that was for sure.”

When Spence was asked if any of his teammates gave him any sort of advice, he could not name a specific player, and for a good reason.

“Pretty much everyone [did] actually. Everyone said you’re never going to have your first NHL game again, so just take it all in, enjoy it, and play your hardest.”

Spence identified the rookie solo lap prior to warmups as the moment that stands out the most for him from the game, describing it as a “pretty surreal moment”.

Coach Todd McLellan, who was visibly frustrated after the loss, was able to put those frustrations aside to praise Spence.

“I thought he did a real good job…. [I’m] happy for him that he got the opportunity, and he didn’t disappoint.”

The Los Angeles Kings will play the San Jose Sharks again at 6:30pm on Saturday (local time, Sunday 1:30pm AEDT), with the potential for Spence to get his second dose of NHL experience depending on the injury to Drew Doughty.

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