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The Heroes of 2020
Jordan Spence is hoping this year is different.
The 19-year-old Cornwall native was playing on a stacked Moncton Wildcats team a year ago before COVID-19 abruptly ended the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) regular season and forced the cancellation of the playoffs. Fast-forward 10 months and Spence is on another powerhouse, this time the Val-d’Or Foreurs, following a trade from the Hub City.
“Last year, we had a great team and also loaded up after Christmas. We were really looking forward to the playoffs and … to try and win the President Cup, but unfortunately that didn't happen with COVID,” Spence said. “It was unfortunate, but I have another chance this year to go for it.”
The QMJHL’s reigning defenceman of the year and Los Angeles Kings prospect is likely to turn pro after this season. He was one of the marquee players available during the QMJHL trade window, which closes Jan. 25. The Wildcats, who drafted Spence 20th overall in 2018 after he was passed over in 2017, found him a good landing spot with the Foreurs. Val-d’Or (10-1-2-2) is tied with the Charlottetown Islanders (12-2-0-0) for top spot in the 18-team league.
Spence, who starred for the Summerside D. Alex MacDonald Ford Western Capitals of the Maritime Junior Hockey League in 2017-18, said the Wildcats are a first-class organization and he was thankful director of hockey operations Ritchie Thibeau was able to work out a deal for him with a team loading up.
“I have a lot of respect for him for caring about me,” he said. “I can’t thank them enough for drafting me and developing me.”
The move also reunites Spence with Jakob Pelletier. The duo played two seasons together in Moncton and was part of Canada’s squad at the 2019 under-18 world championship squad in Sweden and the recent national team that won silver at the world junior tournament in Edmonton.
“Pelts was one of my best friends in Moncton,” Spence said.
“It was pretty cool when I told him the news that I got traded to Val-d’Or. … We’ve been pretty much together during the whole time of our junior careers.”
Spence, a five-foot-eight, 178-pound blue-liner, said it was an honour being part of Team Canada at the world juniors during the Christmas holidays. He scored a goal on his first shift against Slovakia.
“When I scored that goal, there was a lot of emotions,” he said. “I’ll never forget that moment.”
Spence also played in the quarter-final win over the Czech Republic.
“When we had the chance to dress him, he played really solid. He never made it easy on us,” head coach André Tourigny said. “His sense, his feel for the game, his puck movement was really solid. … He can be proud of himself.”
It is not always easy for star players, who are used to playing 20-plus minutes a night with their club teams, to accept lesser roles on national squads. While Spence wanted to play, he was never a distraction.
“Jordan had an exemplary attitude,” Tourigny said. “He was up tempo every day and smiling.”
It carries a lot of weight inside a dressing room.
“Teammates see the sacrifice guys they care about have to make and see his attitude every day and the way he carries himself. I think it’s an inspiration for teammates.”
Spence said he worked every day to be physically and mentally ready when called upon.
“I just wanted to have a positive attitude because you never know when you’re going to be … in the lineup.”
It is something Spence can lean on when he embarks on his pro career.
“I’m just going to take the same mentality and positive attitude.”
Spence is currently in a familiar spot of self-isolation. He did 14 days of it in Red Deer, Alta., and five more in Edmonton for the world juniors and now is about midway through quarantining in Val-d’Or.
“I just can’t wait to go on the ice again,” he said. “I think we’re going to be a great team and we’re going to make a run for it, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
With Quebec-based teams playing all their regular season games in the province this season, Spence may have played his final game in the Maritimes. He appreciated all the support he has received from both provinces.
“Moncton was such a great spot, and going back to the Island to play against the Islanders was awesome because my friends and family were there,” he said. “I’m going to miss it a lot.”
Need to know
Who – Jordan Spence, a 19-year-old defenceman from Cornwall.
The latest – Spence is in self-isolation in Val-d’Or, Que., after returning from Edmonton where he represented Canada at the world junior hockey championship. The Moncton Wildcats traded the gifted blue-liner to the Val-d’Or Foreurs in exchange for goalie Vincent Filion, who was the sixth overall pick in 2020, Drummondville’s fourth-round pick in 2022 and Val-d’Or’s first-round selection in 2023.
Season GP G A Pts.
2018-19 68 6 43 49
2019-20 60 9 43 52
2020-21 13 5 11 16
Jason Malloy is The Guardian's sports editor.