Hockey-loving Canadian Vancouver Spain look to shine on the diamond

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“Today, I love hockey as much as baseball,” says the native of Clarksville, Tennessee. “When I was a kid, it was always hockey, then baseball”

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Vancouver Canadiens centre-back Garrett Spain playing in a market north of the border is ideal, given seconds of conversation with him you may find yourself talking about Jordin Tootoo’s physical play and other similar things.

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Spain, 21, is from Clarksville, Tenn., and admits he was more into hockey than baseball as a kid, falling hard for the Nashville Predators and their former spark plug Tootoo in particular.

Spain played both sports until high school – the striker even has a page on hockey’s eliteprospects.com – but when the only scholarship offer involved bat and ball, he opted to drop any serious pursuit with stick and puck.

Spain started hockey and baseball when he was four years old. The push for hockey came after watching the Predators on TV. He remembers the first game he attended Tootoo had a Gordie Howe hat trick.

The Gordie Howe features a player recording a goal, an assist and a major fight in a single game. There probably aren’t many others in the C’s clubhouse who can deliver that definition.

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“There are maybe two or three,” said Spain, whose side are hosting the Eugene Emeralds in a six-game series at the Nat Bailey Stadium this week. “It’s weird, but it’s been like that all my life. Where I grew up in Tennessee, nobody knows hockey, nobody plays hockey. I had to travel to Nashville (which is a 45 minute drive southeast of Clarksville) to play hockey.

“Today, I love hockey as much as baseball. When I was a kid, it was always hockey, then baseball.

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Spain is such a fan of Tootoo, a scrappy winger whose 13-year NHL career ended in the 2016-17 season, that he cites 22 as his favorite number. This was the jersey Tootoo wore the majority of his time with the Predators.

Spain remains a fan of the club, explaining that ‘everyone on the Preds I really like’. He says he was contacted by the Colorado Avalanche when they swept Nashville in the first round of the playoffs, and believes Colorado will beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Finals.

“They’re good, man. It’s tough to beat Tampa, but this is the team to do it,” he said.

He’s also excited to see how the hockey talk is growing in Vancouver throughout the summer and fall. The C’s high-A Northwest League regular season ends September 11. The Canucks begin training camp Sept. 23 in Whistler.

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The Toronto Blue Jays, who are the parent club of the big C league, chose Spain in the 15th round of the 2021 entry draft at Austin Peay State University, a school in his hometown of Clarksville.

Canadian outfielder Garrett Spain heads the goal during a North West <a class=League game at the Nat Bailey Stadium this season.” class=”embedded-image__image lazyload” src=”https://smartcdn.gprod.postmedia.digital/theprovince/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/Spain-1.jpeg?quality=90&strip=all&w=288″ srcset=”https://smartcdn.gprod.postmedia.digital/theprovince/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/Spain-1.jpeg?quality=90&strip=all&w=288, https://smartcdn.gprod.postmedia.digital/theprovince/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/Spain-1.jpeg?quality=90&strip=all&w=576 2x” height=”1643″ loading=”lazy” width=”2191″/>
Canadian outfielder Garrett Spain heads the goal during a North West League game at the Nat Bailey Stadium this season. Photo by Mark Steffens /Vancouver Canadians

He had brought hockey equipment with him when he went to Blue Jays spring training in Dunedin, Florida this year. He chose not to take her to Vancouver when he was posted to the C’s, partly because he didn’t want to worry about carrying that extra baggage and partly because he thought “it would be too tempting”. He has struggled with a persistent wrist injury for the past two seasons.

Spain, like the rest of the C’s, is staying at UBC this season. There are places in the Lower Mainland where he could find ice time if he wanted to.

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“If I had my stuff, I’d probably be there every other day,” he said.

Spain, a 5-foot-11, 178-pound left-handed hitter, was a baseball star at Clarksville High, but the only scholarship offer he received was from Austin Peay. Google Maps lists the schools as being 13 minutes away by car. He thought he was one or two junior hockey seasons away from getting a hockey scholarship.

Spain hit .324, with 20 home runs and 108 RBIs in three seasons at Austin Peay, which totaled 125 games. He hit .197 in 23 games over two levels in the Toronto system last summer. Thursday morning, he was batting .219, with one homer and four RBIs, through 28 games with the Cs this year.

He had a three-week run on the injured list with wrist issues that ended on June 7.

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“I have to keep improving my outfield game and try to have harder contacts consistently,” Spain said. “I tried to find a rhythm and settle into it.”

Emeralds come calling this weekend

Vancouver has a morning double with Eugene on Friday, a night game Saturday with the Emeralds, then closes out the set against the San Francisco Giants farmhands on Sunday afternoon.

Left-hander Ricky Tiedemann, 19, who recently made both mlb.com’s Top 100 prospects (No. 97) and Top 10 left-handed pitchers (No. 9) lists, is expected to start Game 1 on Friday. He is 2-0, with a 0.46 ERA, in four starts with Vancouver. In 19 2/3 innings, he struck out 28, walked three and allowed nine hits.

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