All Riley Spraggs ever wanted was a chance to show his offensive hockey potential.
The skilled Vernon centre will finally get that opportunity when he joins the University of Central Oklahoma Bronchos this fall in Edmond.
The past four seasons were a roller coaster for the 20-year-old; he bounced between Junior B and Junior A, playing the bulk of his minutes with the KIJHL Revelstoke Grizzlies where he posted 52 goals and 110 points in 93 career games.
In his second season with the Grizz, then coached by Troy Mick, Spraggs recorded 25-28-53 in 47 games before a knee injury in the playoffs cut his season short. The Grizz went on to win the Western Canadian Junior B championship.
Having played a handful of games as a call-up with Ed Dempsey’s Prince George Spruce Kings that year, Spraggs made enough of an impression to stick with the BCHL club for 2010-11. However, the 5-foot-10, 180-pounder was thrust into a checking role playing limited minutes, and his production declined.
“Can’t do much from the bench,” shrugged Spraggs.
After half a season, the Sprucies replaced Dempsey and the new coach released Spraggs, so he rejoined the Grizz, this time under Rylan Ferster.
“I was just starting to show my offensive flair (in Revelstoke) when I was signed by Drumheller (Dragons, AJHL) and surprisingly my role was once again to be a defensive centerman,” said Spraggs, who registered a goal and assist in 17 games.
Things only got more puzzling from there. After the season, Drumheller informed Spraggs they wanted him to switch to defence for his final year of Junior. He spent the summer preparing for his new role and played 20 games on the Dragon blueline, recording five assists.
Just when Spraggs was starting to embrace life as a defender, Drumheller changed its coaching staff and his rights were traded to a Manitoba team. He decided to once again come back to Revelstoke, under yet another new head coach (Randy Quakenbush), with the hopes of being picked up by a BCHL club.
“At that point I think most teams had written me off as a third-line grinder, which they had filled with younger players,” said Spraggs, who, despite playing third-line minutes, racked up 19-21-40 in 25 games with the Grizzlies.
“I think a hockey career is defined as much by circumstance and opportunity as it is with the skill of a player. If I was given an opportunity to play my style of hockey more often and be given a chance to be a creative, offensive forward, then I could have been a bigger contributor to my teams and probably wouldn’t have moved from team to team so much.”
Spraggs feels like he now has a second chance with the Bronchos, whose head coach, Craig McAlister, will be counting on him to provide the offence he has been capable of all along.
“With (Riley’s) addition to our team, we have the ability to get into the top 10 and make a tremendous run, or the national title,” said McAllister.
The Bronchos, who play in the top division of the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA), finished last season at 16-23-0-1, and ranked 15th in the Murdoch Cup national championships. In 2009-10, they were national semifinalists.
“Oklahoma just seemed like a place I could take the course I want, and the coach seemed like a nice guy,” said Spraggs, who plans to study kinesiology.
“Ever since I was a kid, hockey has been a stepping stone. You always want to play in the NHL, but the first step is getting an education. If I get a chance to play pro after, I’ll take that step then.”
Spraggs and his family – father Rob, mother Paulette and younger brothers Aiden and John – will take a two-week vacation to head down to Oklahoma before school starts.
“I really want to thank my family more than anything,” said Spraggs. “They have been a huge part of my career. I couldn’t have done it without them.”