IN my experience, coaches don't like comparing their young amateur athletes to professional superstars.
Yet I asked the question and it didn't take long for North Van Wolf Pack head coach Matt Samson and associate coach Elias Godoy to come up with the same answer.
"Thornton?" Samson said.
"Yeah, I could see that," said Godoy. The question was who does North Vancouver centre Spencer Quon remind them of from the NHL. Quon had just gone through a typical night in this, his second season with the Wolf Pack. He set up the team's first goal by sending Quin Buckellew in to give the Pack a 10 lead over the Port Moody Panthers. Then he took a nice pass from linemate Marcus Houck and slapped in a low one-timer, a goal that would stand up as the game winner. Quon ended up with three points in the 4-1 win, pushing his Wolf Pack single season franchise record up to 60 points - in 38 games played - with six games (as of Friday) left before the playoffs begin.
Throughout the game Quon displayed many of the skills that lead straight to a comparison with NHL star Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks, shielding the puck in the offensive zone and using his big body to hold off defenders while conjuring scoring chance after scoring chance with near-impossible passes that most players could never dream of, let alone execute. On one shift early in the second period the Wolf Pack pinned the Panthers into their own zone for more than 90 seconds, the puck finding its way to Quon several times to coolly stickhandle through traffic before sliding slick passes to wide open teammates. It looked like a power-play but no one was in the penalty box.
"He's definitely the best passer I've had," said Samson moments after Wednesday's win over Port Moody. That victory pushed the Pack two points closer to locking up a playoff spot for the second straight year after missing the postseason in each of the team's first three seasons, played from 2008-2011 as the Squamish Wolf Pack. "He's aware of his surroundings, he protects the puck well. He's obviously been a big part of our power play. He's able to find guys, he's able to make those quick, under-the-stick passes or little touch passes that maybe catch a D-man off guard. He does a lot of little things well offensively."
Like Thornton, Quon appears to play the game at a different speed, able to slow the game down and control the
puck while chaos whirls around him. And like Thornton, Quon also looks to make a creative pass long before he opts to take the shot himself. Quon was a Grade 12 guard for the Windsor secondary basketball team last year and at times on the ice he resembles a slick point guard as much as a sturdy centre iceman. Quon, however, has another explanation for his potent handle and pass attack.
"A lot of people say it's from roller hockey, which is another sport I play in the spring," he said. "They take away icings and offsides in that game so it's a lot of back door, drop-pass kind of stuff. It helped me get patient on the ice."
Wherever he learned them, Quon's unique skills have allowed him to blow away the team record for points, set last year at 49 by Brady Bjornson. Quon leads the league with 49 assists and his 60 points rank only behind the 65 of Delta's Mak Barden. That's some nice company to be in considering that Quon was cut from the Wolf Pack before the start of last season. It didn't take long, however, for Samson to recall him from the North Vancouver Minor Hockey Association early in the 2011-12 season and Quon hasn't looked back since. His game has taken another big jump this year now that he's no longer splitting his time between hockey and hoops.
Quon is also quick to credit his usual linemates - wingers Buckellew and Marcus Houck - as big parts of his success. All three of them are in the top-10 in the league in points.
"It helps me a lot. . . . It makes my job easier when I've got goal scorers like that," said Quon.
"(Spencer) and Houck just have such good chemistry," said Samson. "Houck will get open and Spen will find him. They're really good together."
Spencer has natural chemistry with another player on the team as well - twin brother Dyllan has been there every step of the way. Dyllan, however, is a defenceman so he doesn't get the opportunities to rack up the points like Spencer does.
"It was always the dream that maybe one day we'll get to play together like the Sedins, but I don't know," said Spencer. "I started out as a D-man with him when I was younger. We both sort of liked the offensive side better, he kind of found a fit through the D end of the team and I moved forward."
Speaking of defence, that's one area of the game that Spencer needs to improve, said Samson.
"Elias has been working on him a lot on the defensive side of playing centre and that's what he needs to do to get to the next level - to be able to play well down low and be responsible," he said. "I think he's really stepped up his game defensively this year."
The next level that Samson is talking about likely would be junior A hockey next season. Quon has already had a taste, playing three games as a reserve call-up for the Coquitlam Express earlier this season.
"He'll be (in junior A) next year for sure," predicted Samson. Beyond that, Quon said he is eventually hoping to earn a scholarship to play college hockey. Before all that, however, he's got a major role to play as the Wolf Pack close out their season and look to advance past the first round of playoffs in the Pacific Junior Hockey League for the first time in team history.
"Spen is going to be a big part of it," said Samson. "We're going to have to have our power play clicking in the playoffs and we're going to need him to keep producing. We've got a lot of hard working guys who are good hockey players but we don't have the depth where we can rely on other guys to chip in two or three goals. He's got to be going, Houck's got to be going, and Buck."
. . .
The Wolf Pack were scheduled to play games against Abbotsford and Richmond Feb. 1 and 2 after North Shore News press deadline. They'll go on the road for games against North Delta and Port Moody next weekend before returning home for their final two games of the regular season Feb. 13, 7: 30 p.m. against North Delta and Feb. 16, 7 p.m. against Delta. Home games are at Harry Jerome Arena.