CORNER BROOK It didn’t take long for Ryan Sparling to endear himself to Corner Brook Royals supporters.
The 22-year-old centre was brought in during an early-season reshuffling of the deck, as the Royals were mired in a mini-slump. Through three games in his West Coast Senior Hockey League career, he has two goals and five assists.
Now, the team still lost two of those three games, so he hasn’t magically solved all its problems, but he’s definitely given the offence a kick in the pants.
He admits his first game, a 4-1 loss to the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts on Dec. 4, was a tough go, since he hadn’t been on the ice in a while. The next two games saw him on the No. 1 unit with Mark Tobin and Andrew White against the league-leading Clarenville Caribous, in which he amassed the game-winning goal and three assists in a 6-5 victory and then a goal and two assists in a 4-3 loss.
“It took me a little bit to get my legs going,” he said. “But I got to playing with two good hockey players who can finish (Tobin and White) and we seemed to play pretty good together, we were moving the puck well.
“It seemed to click,” he added. “Hopefully we can carry it over into this weekend.”
That the line found chemistry so quickly could mean good things in the future for the Royals. Sparling himself believes they’re a much better club than their record (4-7-1) indicates.
“Sometimes things don’t start off the way you want and you have to battle through it,” he said of fitting in with his new linemates. “We were lucky enough that it started out pretty well right away.
“From what I’ve seen so far, when we play our game, we can definitely play with both the teams I played against,” he continued. “There were times in the game where we got away from our hockey, and that happens, you just have to start playing 60 minutes of hockey.”
In other words, when he looks around the dressing room, he doesn’t see a group of cellar-dwellers.
“Definitely not,” he said. “From what I’ve seen so far, we’ve got a team that can compete. We should be fine.”
Being counted on to score is nothing new to the Sydney, N.S. native.
He was a regular point-producer for the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for four seasons, racking up 217 points (83G-134A) in 247 games from 2005-06 through 2008-09, highlighted by his 2007-08 campaign when he amassed 74 points (30G-44A) in 57 games.
Sparling admits he had National Hockey League aspirations at that point.
“Yeah, but I mean, that didn’t happen,” he said. “I don’t know, I guess I just never got a break at it. I wish I did ... I mean, that’s what everyone wants, but it didn’t happen, so ...”
Instead he found himself playing for the St. Francis Xavier University X-Men after his junior hockey days were over, notching 11 points (2G-9A) in 25 games.
“I ended up trying out in university and that was fine too,” he said. “Right now I’m just trying to worry about getting an education.”
His last hockey stop before the Royals came with the Missouri Mavericks of the Central Hockey League.
He had one assist in six games and was waived by the team. When he went unclaimed, the club told him they were going to try to trade him.
“That team had a lot of depth, it was hard to crack a spot,” he said. “I just asked to come home. I wanted to come home and figure everything out.”
Through various hockey connections, Royals coaches received Sparling’s name and promptly asked winger Todd Ballah, also from Sydney, if he knew anything about him.
“I knew Todd forever, so he gave me a call and asked me if I wanted to come over and I said ‘yes,’” Sparling said.
Though it’s not where he envisioned himself playing hockey, he’s enjoyed his time in a Royals jersey so far.
“It’s definitely a change, but the guys on the team are great and it’s definitely entertaining coming over and hanging out and playing with a new group of guys,” he said.
“I’m having fun while I’m doing it.”
He expects the fun to be amped up even more this weekend, as he gets his first taste of the WCSHL’s premier rivalry between the Royals and Deer Lake Red Wings.
“Rivalry games are the games you want to play, they’re more intense and usually pretty close,” he said. “Hopefully it’s everything it’s been built up to be.”
The two teams hook up 8 p.m. at the Hodder Memorial Recreation Complex Friday night and 7:30 p.m. Saturday night at the Pepsi Centre.