For two guys that were very nearly inseparable for the first 16 years of their life, more than a decade spent across the country from each other did little to loosen the bond.
“Made sure we called each other every single night,” Tyler Ennis joked after practice Monday at Xcel Energy Center. Jared Spurgeon then chipped in from his stall directly across the locker room, “Tuck each other in over FaceTime.”
So maybe it wasn’t quite as cute as that, but before a June 30 trade with the Buffalo Sabres reunited the pair on the Wild roster, the duo certainly kept tabs on each other. In fact, they played ball hockey on the same team in the summers up until they were 19 and started in the NHL. Then they just worked out together every offseason in their native Edmonton, Alberta.
That was how Ennis and Spurgeon found out they’d be teammates again for the first time since midget hockey, though the realization didn’t really sink in until they were both in Minnesota. Spurgeon, a defenseman who has been with the Wild since 2010-11, readily took on the role of tour guide for Ennis, a winger who had played his whole career with Buffalo since 2009-10. For example, Spurgeon took Ennis to the first Vikings game this season.
“It’s been awesome to see him in here,” Spurgeon said. “We’ve only played one game together [the 1-0 win against Winnipeg this past Thursday], but it was pretty fun and surreal to get in there after a win and see a buddy that you grew up with and used to celebrate with when you were 7 or 8 years old in the same NHL locker room as you.”
Spurgeon helped Ennis find a place to live in downtown Minneapolis, but with the defenseman living in Edina with his wife and three kids, they aren’t quite as attached as they once were. That, and Spurgeon has a “big dog,” which Ennis is allergic to, so that’s put a kibosh on crashing many family dinners.
Ennis said Spurgeon has made the move a “pretty easy transition.” He also called it “a dream come true,” to play alongside his best friend, especially considering the two 5-foot-9 players weren’t exactly sure things in the NHL.
While Spurgeon has solidified himself as the right side of the Wild’s top defensive pairing, Ennis still has to find his spot. It’s likely he slots in on the left wing of the fourth line alongside center Matt Cullen and right winger Chris Stewart. But assistant coach John Anderson said he sees some flexibility with Ennis.
“He can go third or fourth line,” Anderson said. “When Chuck [Fletcher, general manager] and [coach Bruce Boudreau] looked at our team last year, we wanted to be deeper. So we added [Marcus] Foligno and Ennis, and they can go up and down the lineup. I think they’re both comfortable playing on the fourth or first line. That’s the type of depth that we’re looking for. No matter where they play, they’ll get the ice time to do what they need to do.”
Anderson added Ennis has “an edge to his play” and isn’t afraid to “go to the hard places.” He also said Ennis has quick side-to-side speed that makes him elusive in the offensive zone and able to create scoring opportunities.
Injuries have hampered Ennis’ most recent two seasons, though, as a concussion in 2015-16 left him with just 23 games and 11 points while a groin injury last year saw him play 51 games with 13 points.
“Before my injuries, I was scoring 20 [goals] a year,” Ennis said. “So my goal is to get back on that path. If I play a healthy season, there’s no reason I can’t do that again, especially on this team, especially with this lineup.
“It’s nice to be on a team where the mind-set is to win every single night,” Ennis said. “Coming from an organization that was kind of in rebuild to a team whose goal is to win the Stanley Cup is a pretty special feeling.”
Regardless of how the season goes on the ice, Ennis has already won one superlative. Or at least, he shares it with Spurgeon: the best best-friends on the team.
“It’s hard not to be when you’re growing up together,” Spurgeon said. “We literally lived down the street from each other and were together pretty much every day growing up until we went to juniors. So there’s not much we haven’t really done together.”
“We get ribbed on quite a bit,” Spurgeon said of his teammates’ chirps. “They have the fuel with all the articles and stuff like that to get at us. But it’s nothing too crazy.”