Ryan Spooner says a coach once told him: When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.
But now, after being told he has mononucleosis on the eve of Canada’s world junior camp, those lemons are particularly bitter and biting.
“At the end of the day it would have been amazing to play in the tournament,” said the Kingston Frontenacs forward on Saturday afternoon. “But hopefully in a few years I’ll be having a successful career somewhere and I’ll be able to look back on it and say, ‘Yeah, it would have been a fun time.’
“It’s disappointing right now, but I have the mentality where I can’t really do anything about it so there’s no point in being too upset about it – that’ll only make me feel worse.”
It is particularly tough because Spooner had been playing his best hockey of late with 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) in his last 10 OHL games. He also was a standout with Team OHL in their Super Series games against Russia, earning a ‘player of the game’ honour and collecting six points in two games.
At Canada’s camp in Calgary, with the recent additions of forwards Devante Smith-Pelly (Anaheim) and Brett Connolly (Tampa Bay), Spooner wouldn’t have been a lock to suit up for the 2011 silver medalists, though his skill and smarts would have made him a difficult cut to make. The hardest part for Spooner, however, is having to second-guess what might have been.
“I’ve been playing some of my best hockey,” said the Ottawa native. “Just getting a shot at trying to make the team, I kind of would have known even if I did get cut. I could say, ‘Hey, at least I went there and gave it a shot.’”
At first Spooner thought his illness was nothing more than your average common cold – sore throat, runny nose and general malaise. Mononucleosis is a common viral infection that presents many flu-like symptoms, but can cause an enlarged spleen which makes it dangerous to participate in contact sports.
It wasn’t until Friday night, before the Frontenacs played the Brampton Battalion, that head coach Todd Gill broke the news to his young star. The words were met with incredulity and disappointment.
“I said, ‘Come on. That sucks.'”
He went straight to the hospital where he got his spleen tested and the diagnosis was confirmed. Spooner said he’s been told his mononucleosis is mild and that he could miss anywhere from two to four weeks.
Adding insult to his illness is the fact that Spooner said he felt as though he could lace-up the skates if needed.
“I feel a little tired, but I don’t feel sick in any way,” said the 19-year-old. “I feel like if I had to play hockey right now I could – that’s the unfortunate thing. I feel like if I was at camp I would be able to play, but it’s just a precaution. You can’t really mess with this.”
This isn’t the first time Team Canada hopefuls have been taken out by mono. In preparation for the 2008 world junior championship in the Czech Republic, the squad had to send home two players with the disease – Kitchener’s Nick Spaling and, four days later, Brampton’s Cory Emmerton who had just been traded from Kingston.
“It’s happened to a couple other players (at junior camp) before too,” said the second-round pick of the Boston Bruins in 2010. “I’m pretty sure they asked the same questions like, ‘Why does this have to happen to me or why does this have to happen now?' No one knows the answer to that, but it’s a tough one for sure.”
And despite what must be a profound disappointment, Spooner – the friendly and jovial kid he is – said he'd continue to put a positive spin on his life’s lemons while cheering for Team Canada.
“I wish everyone at camp the best of luck.”