There were some, perhaps many, in the minor hockey class of Jordan Spadafore whose pathway to pro hockey appeared far more linear.
Keep in mind that the 2000-born group in which the towering defenseman developed provided a much-heralded local collection of talent headed by the likes of Damien Giroux, Billy Moskal and Cameron Lamour.
If nothing else, Spadafore is a glowing example of just how much can be accomplished via a ton of perseverance and a willingness to do whatever it takes.
A ninth-round pick of the North Bay Battalion in the spring of 2016 who did not manage to find his way into even a single OHL game, Spadafore signed a pro contract with the Fort Wayne Komets (ECHL) in late July, the next step in what has been a very interesting journey on the ice for the now 23-year-old, 6-2 blueliner.
“I always had in mind that I wanted to keep playing,” said the former NOJHLer (Rayside-Balfour Canadians – 2016-2018) who completed his second year with the Nipissing Lakers (OUAA) last winter. “I made a decision to go the school route and if a good pro offer came my way, we would consider it.
“Worse case: I get to keep playing hockey and get an education out of it.”
Like so many who enjoy a more truculent style of hockey (and that is putting it politely), Spadafore provides a highly insightful and wonderfully grounded perspective on the game that he loves and the many twists and turns that have come his way.
Following two years in Rayside and with little indication that he would be offered a spot with the Battalion, Spadafore made the decision to head east, looking for a landing place, ideally, somewhere in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).
In the 2018-2019 season alone, the Northern Ontario lad who has grown to adore the East Coast (likely doesn’t hurt that his girlfriend hails from New Brunswick) would make pit stops with the Rimouski Oceanic, Val d’Or Foreurs and Saint John Sea Dogs (all in the QMJHL), as well as suiting up for another 19 outings with the Grand Falls Rapids (Maritime Junior Hockey League).
He showed well enough to spend almost the entire next year in Saint John, squeezing a little hockey in during the pandemic as well with the Miramachi Timberwolves in 2020-2021. Aged out of the junior ranks, Spadafore returned much closer to home without ever losing sight of the end goal.
“I think university hockey helped me mature and grow my game,” he said. “When you make that jump to university, it seems that they are all grown men. The speed is up, the physicality is up.”
Not that this detracted from the presence that the soon-to-be Hoosier (resident of Indiana) who accumulated 143 penalty minutes in 72 QMJHL games would enjoy.
“This off-season, I started to get texts from different pro teams,” stated Spadafore. “A lot of the teams wanted to see if I wanted to come out to camp to tryout.”
All things considered, if these were the best offers, Spadafore would likely have returned for his third year at Nipissing, looking to formalize a line of studies after establishing a broad base of electives as an undeclared major as a freshman and sophomore for the Lakers.
Then came the Komets.
“About a week ago (interview was in late July), I got a text from Fort Wayne asking me to be part of their organization,” explained Spadafore. “That kind of caught me off guard.”
The fit was a good one, both in the eyes of Fort Wayne assistant coach Corey Melkirk (the man who reached out), and the young prospect on the receiving end of the offer.
“They were really looking for a steady, stay-at-home defenseman who is physical. It very much matched my identity as a hockey player.”
In less than a day, the deal was sealed.
Processing all that had just happened would take a few days.
“It’s going to be a big change,” acknowledged Spadafore. “The playmaking is just way better than any other league I have stepped on the ice with – and it’s not as easy to knock players off the puck. It’s going to be a major adjustment, but I’m going to make sure I am well-prepared, going into training camp ready to go.”
After suiting up with the visiting team in NOJHL matchups in Sault Ste Marie (Michigan) and playing in a peewee tournament in Philadelphia several years before, the new signee is about to garner a far deeper immersion with American culture.
“I really didn’t have too much knowledge about Fort Wayne as a city until the coach sent me the recruitment video,” Spadafore noted with a smile. “I am still trying to google what to do away from the rink.”
But for as much as he wants to ride hockey for as long as he can, the athlete who was among the goal scoring threats as an eight-year-old with the Walden Avalanche is conscious of life beyond hockey, more than open to working in New Brunswick and the Maritimes.
“I think I am going to stay out east when I am done,” Spadafore confessed. “The people are friendly and, to be perfectly honest, I am fascinated by the ocean. I really like it out here.”
For now, however, he just likes hockey more.
Randy Pascal is a sportswriter in Greater Sudbury. Pursuit is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.