Spence nets first NHL look

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:16 AM ET

It's hard to imagine someone as persistent as Daniel Spence not getting a break sooner.

But until now, the former Calgary Hitmen goaltender hasn't had much luck getting a pro team to give him a look.

Undrafted and unsigned, the 21-year-old free agent has tried every summer to earn an invitation to a pro camp.

No bites. Not even after working the phones himself.

"Last summer, I called all 30 GMs myself and couldn't get a sniff," Spence said yesterday from the Saddledome as Calgary Flames rookie camp kicked off with physicals and fitness testing.

"This summer was a big relief to get something."

Finally, he's earned an invite, courtesy of the Flames.

It came late enough in the summer to have Spence worried.

"We'd been trying to get something, and things weren't looking great," Spence said of his work with agent Rick Vallet. "We'd kind of come to terms with maybe not getting a tryout this summer. I dealt with it."

Then came the call -- to Vallet, who sent Spence a text telling him the news just a couple of weeks ago.

"When I got the call, it felt unbelievable," Spence said.

"I'm very honoured to be here."

An impressive five-year junior career ended after a tumultuous season that saw him dismissed by the Hitmen last fall and scooped up by the OHL's Sarnia Sting as an overager.

He put up solid numbers there, but still had trouble convincing teams he would make a good pro.

"Every year, if you don't get a pro camp, you've got a junior team to go back to and a camp to show up to in August," said Spence, who's now taking part in his seventh straight training camp in Cowtown.

"For a long time there, I didn't have anything. I was in limbo."

Consulting with former NHL netminder Kelly Hrudey earlier this summer helped alleviate some of Spence's nerves. Hrudey offered his services as an informal advisor of sorts in times of need.

"He was huge for me, telling me just to hang in there, keep my head up, something's gonna come up," Spence said. "Patience paid off."

Hrudey is delighted the young netminder received a call from the pros.

"Luckily for him, his career record spoke for itself and he's able to get a chance," Hrudey said yesterday.

"All you're looking for is hope and a chance to get your foot in the door, and Dan was able to do that. I'm really happy for him."

Good news kept coming after the Flames invite. Last week, Spence signed with the Central Hockey League's Laredo Bucks.

In a perfect world, Spence would prefer to stay with the Flames organization and suit up for the Abbotsford Heat.

The Langley, B.C., boy, however, knows he has a hockey home somewhere for this season.

"If I do end up (in Laredo), then I'm gonna make the best of it. It'd be a good opportunity to play some more hockey, play another season, and get a lot of games under my belt again," Spence said.

"But I'm hoping to make the best of it in Calgary."

STEVE.MACFARLANE@SUNMEDIA.CA


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