Spraggs, Hails happy with St. Louis school

Riley Spraggs took in a Cardinals baseball game on Sunday. Michael Hails can’t wait to see the Blues in NHL action.

Riley Spraggs took in a Cardinals baseball game on Sunday. Michael Hails can’t wait to see the Blues in NHL action.

In between attending pro sports games, the two Vernon products will be playing college hockey for the Lindenwood University Lions in St. Charles, a 15-minute drive over the bridge from St. Louis.

“Everybody wears something from the Blues, Rams or Cardinals, so it’s a a great sports city and it’s a lot of fun down here,” said Spraggs, 22, a transfer from the Central Oklahoma Bronchos.

Spraggs led the Bronchos with 26 goals and 41 points last year as a sophomore. He rang up 14 goals and 27 points in his freshman season.

“I got a better scholarship offer and it’s a great fit for me,” said Spraggs. “It’s a very hockey-oriented school and coach (Rick Zombo) played in the NHL for 12 years so he brings a lot of knowledge and experience.”

Spraggs, a 5-foot-9, 180-pounder, will likely start the season on left wing as the Lions face the Adrian College Bulldogs of Eastern Michigan tonight.

He played 65 Junior A games for the Prince George Spruce Kings and Drumheller Dragons and  another 99 Junior B tilts before signing with Oklahoma. Spraggs, who is studying exercise science, will wear No. 24.

“Riley is a perennial goal scorer who played the last two seasons for a quality program that I really respect,” said Zombo, after inking Spraggs. “Anyone who can score 20 goals in a collegiate season brings a certain skill set that is difficult to teach.”

Hails, who turns 20 in late October, was an all-star net detective with the Comox Valley Glacier Kings last year, earning MVP in the Vancouver Island Junior B League as the Kings lost to the Peninusla Panthers in the playoff finals. A former Viper defenceman mentioned Hails to the Lions.

“Brad Cook, who was coaching in Saanich (Braves), recommended me after asking about my plans. I was on a USHL tryout with Youngstown in Madison (Wisconsin) and the coach (Zombo) drive up to Madison and stayed for the last half of camp and watched me.”

Hails is getting a partial scholarship in the Central States Collegiate Hockey League’s Division I. Some of the better known universities that compete in the 20-team Division I final tournament include Arizona, Iowa State, Oklahoma and West Virginia.

Others like Lindenwood, Davenport and Minot State are considered lower profile schools, but all three have won a national title in the last five years. The Lions have played in the championship game in five of the last seven years, winning two national titles.

The Lions graduated just one senior from a team that finished 13-20-2 last year.

“It’s gone well so far,” said Hails. “We’re carrying three goalies so it looks like the returnee and I will be battling for the games each week. The third goalie is a junior. We lost 2-1 to the St. Louis Junior Blues  in a exhibition game and I had 20 shots and got a shutout playing the second half.”

Hails says the shots coming his way are much sharper and harder to read than he’s used to. And like Spraggs, he’s high on Zombo.

“On the ice, he’s like no other coach I’ve had. He’s high demand for the players and makes sure you are accountable because he knows we should win this year.”

“Brad Cook, who was coaching in Saanich (Braves), recommended me after asking about my plans. I was on a USHL tryout with Youngstown in Madison (Wisconsin) and the coach (Zombo) drove up to Madison and stayed for the last half of camp and watched me.”

Hails is getting a partial scholarship in the Central States Collegiate Hockey League’s Division I. Some of the better known universities that compete in the 20-team Division I final tourney include Arizona, Iowa State, Oklahoma and West Virginia.

Others like Lindenwood, Davenport and Minot State are considered lower profile schools, but all three have won a national title in the last five years. The Lions have played in the championship game in five of the last seven years, winning two national titles. The Lions graduated just one senior from a team that finished 13-20-2 last year.

“It’s gone well so far,” said Hails. “We’re carrying three goalies so it looks like the returnee and I will be battling for the games each week. The third goalie is a junior. We lost 2-1 to the St. Louis Junior Blues  in a exhibition game and I had 20 shots and got a shutout playing the second half.”

Hails says the shots coming his way are much sharper and harder to read than he’s used to. And like Spraggs, he’s high on Zombo.

“On the ice, he’s like no other coach I’ve had. He’s high demand for the players and makes sure you are accountable because he knows we should win this year.”

Hails is taking sports management and will put on No. 29 tonight. He is rooming with Summerland’s Graham  Zagrodney, the only other Canadian on the team.

Zagrodney was named the Top Defenceman in the Island league with the Victoria Cougars last year, posting eight goals and 64 points.

On the Lions’ new direction, Zombo said on the school’s web site: “The simple fact of the matter is that we had a losing record last year and we needed to change the culture of our hockey program. We feel that we have signed some strong character guys who are good hockey players that will really help re-energize our program.”

New recruit Alexander Carlsson from Stockholm, Sweden, played forward for the St. Louis Junior Blues last season after one year with Mora J20 in the Sweden SuperElite league.