Cole Spicer is having a big rebound season and there's good reason for it
The Grand Forks native and UND commit suffered multiple setbacks during his first year with the National Team Development Program
For NHL scouts, the Five Nations tournament in November was an intriguing one.
No scouts had seen the draft-eligible U.S. Under-18 Team players go against their own age group in 18 months. Last season, all of the Under-17 Team's international events were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, so their only body of work came against older United States Hockey League teams.
One guy in particular caught everyone's attention in Switzerland at the Five Nations — Grand Forks native Cole Spicer.
Spicer finished tied for second in the tournament in scoring with seven points in four games. He was only one point back of leader Rutger McGroarty, a projected first-round draft pick.
It was eye-catching for a guy who had just eight points all of last season.
But a deeper look into it explains Spicer's emergence this season with the U.S. Under-18 Team.
A year ago, Spicer had constant setbacks. He spent 24 days in quarantine just before the start of the year. He was ruled a close contact of a positive COVID-19 case and spent 14 days quarantined. The day he got out, he tested positive for COVID-19 and was sent back to quarantine for another 10 days.
After playing for a little more than a month, Spicer had to have hernia surgery, which kept him out of the lineup for another two months.
"For any kid coming here, it's a huge jump," U.S. Under-18 Team coach Adam Nightingale said. "It's not that the levels they're coming from aren't good, you're just skipping a couple levels and jumping right into the USHL. It's a hard league. On top of that, Cole had the double lockdown on COVID. He wasn't able to get on the ice and do some things. This year, he's been healthy for the most part and that's why he's having a better year. We always thought he was a really good player."
UND will get a chance to see that firsthand Saturday.
Spicer and the U.S. Under-18 Team are set to play against UND in Ralph Engelstad Arena at 2:37 p.m. Saturday in an exhibition game.
It will be Spicer's first time playing in Grand Forks since February 2019, when he averaged a point per game as a freshman in helping Grand Forks Central to a perfect 25-0-0 season and state championship.
Spicer played for the Michigan-based Honeybaked program as a sophomore and the last two with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program in Plymouth, Mich.
"Obviously, I'm pretty excited," Spicer said. "I grew up there. I committed to play hockey there. I just signed my NLI (National Letter of Intent). I'm stoked and hoping a lot of family and friends are going to be there. It should be a cool experience."
Spicer said he's tentatively scheduled to come to UND next season, but he acknowledged that could change. He will likely be a mid-round pick in this summer's NHL Draft.
In the meantime, he's continuing to show why he's one of the top 2004-born American players. Spicer, who has mainly played center this season, has 18 points in 25 games.
"He's a really smart player," Nightingale said. "He makes guys around him better. He can play center or wing. He has good hands and a good stick, but I think his hockey sense is what really makes him a good player."
The 5-foot-11, 174-pound Spicer has been playing along the goal line on the power play for the U18s. Nightingale thinks Spicer will eventually be a power-play guy at the college level, too.
"He's willing to go to tough areas," Nightingale said. "He sees the ice really well. He's done a good job here. He had a good summer. I think when he continues to get stronger, I definitely think he will be a guy who is top-six (in college hockey) and a power-play guy. He can kill penalties. He's smart. North Dakota should be excited about getting him."
Spicer said he spent last summer in Grand Forks working on his strength and his recovery from surgery.
"I worked a lot with a trainer and on-ice coach," he said. "We did a lot of stuff specifically for my hernia — strengthening and movement-wise. I got my stride back to normal."
Spicer is quite familiar with a couple players on UND's roster. In fact, he spent Christmas break skating with UND's Judd Caulfield and Kaleb Johnson, also former Central players.
"He'll have a jolt of energy," Nightingale said. "It's pretty cool that we're able to do this. When it's all said and done, we're playing 19 college games this season. North Dakota is going to get a kid who is essentially two-thirds of the way through his freshman year. It bodes well for him stepping in and helping them."
UND vs. U.S. Under-18 Team
When: 2:37 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Ralph Engelstad Arena.
TV: Midco Sports (GF Ch. 27/622 HD).
Radio: The Fox (96.1 FM).
Of note: Grand Forks native and future UND forward Cole Spicer plays for the U.S. Under-18 Team.
UND's NTDP recruits who played vs. future team
Jan. 1, 2022 — Cole Spicer
Dec. 28, 2019 — Jake Sanderson, Tyler Kleven (in Plymouth, Mich.)
Dec. 29, 2018 — Judd Caulfield
Dec. 30, 2017 — Gavin Hain
Jan. 3, 2015 — Shane Gersich
Oct. 26, 2013 — Shane Gersich
Oct. 12, 2012 — Gage Ausmus, Keaton Thompson
Dec. 19, 2008 — Nick Mattson