Spence returns to Maroons' blue-line after one season away

Defenceman Craig Spence is returning to his hometown Chatham Maroons after one season away.

Chatham Maroons' Craig Spence (10) plays against the St. Marys Lincolns in the third period at Chatham Memorial Arena in Chatham, Ont., on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. Mark Malone/Chatham Daily News/Postmedia Network

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If Craig Spence doesn’t make the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads this season, he’ll be returning to his hometown Chatham Maroons.

The 18-year-old defenceman has almost 2½ months to go before the Steelheads begin training camp Jan. 23.

Until then, he’ll be skating with the Maroons. He played for them as a rookie in 2018-19.

“I’m just back with the Maroons getting ice time, skating and maybe playing a few exhibition games until the OHL season starts, and then I’m going there,” he said.

If the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League campaign gets underway on time in December, he may play some regular-season games with the Maroons as well before taking his shot at the Ontario Hockey League.

Maroons head coach and general manager Tyler Roeszler announced Spence’s return after one season away Monday.

“Craig is an elite defencemen in our league and we are fortunate to welcome him back to our organization,” Roeszler said in a statement. “Craig’s ability to be mobile and to get involved offensively on the rush and in the offensive zone makes him very difficult to defend.

“He is long and defends well. He will raise the level of our entire team with the way that he competes. Craig will be a leader for our group.”

The former Chatham-Kent AAA Cyclone was a Steelheads seventh-round pick in the 2018 OHL draft.

Spence had three goals and nine assists in 45 games as a Maroons rookie in 2018-19.

The six-foot-three, 160-pound rearguard played last season in the Ontario Junior Hockey League with the Georgetown Raiders. He had five goals, 11 assists and 67 penalty minutes in 48 games.

He also practised once or twice a week with the Steelheads.

Spence is optimistic about making the club.

“I’m definitely in the mix, that’s for sure,” he said. “… It’s definitely good news. But not the greatest news that the season got pushed back.”

The OHL will begin its virus-delayed 40-game regular season Feb. 4.

“I guess it’s the safest call to make,” Spence said.

Practising all season with the Steelheads gave Spence a good idea of what to expect in the OHL if he makes the cut. It was nothing like going from junior B to tier II junior A.

“It’s definitely a bigger jump and stronger players to go against,” he said.

His older brother Grant, 20, is another former Maroon who played last season in Georgetown. Grant is still the Raiders’ property, but he’s attending the University of Windsor.

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