“It’s one thing to win a championship as a kid growing up playing minor hockey, but to win it as a grown man, you appreciate how hard it is,” said retired hockey player Spencer Abraham.
This year, Abraham cemented his legacy as a Queen’s Gaels men’s hockey player. He went on to captain his team to a Queen’s Cup Championship for the first time since 1981.
“It’s hard to fathom that it would come down to that. I’ve played a lot of games at the Memorial Centre where there’s 15, 25, 50 people there and it’s pretty dead, and we always joked about how loud that old rink would get if it was full,” Abraham said about winning the Queen’s Cup on home ice in his last season.
“For it to come down to my last year, my last game, to have that thought that I’ve had for five years, come true, when that final buzzer sounded, realizing that I’m going to be the one going out to accept the Queen’s Cup in front of the city that has taken me in and embraced me as one of their own, at this school that has given me the opportunity to get a law degree, where I’ve met some of my best friends, friends for life, it really doesn’t get any better than that, so it’s hard to put into words,” he added.
With hockey aspirations at a young age, Abraham grew up in Burlington, Ontario, as he fell into the sport that all Canadian kids have NHL aspirations for.
“My dad built a back-yard rink when I was younger, and taught me how to skate by pushing a chair around for a while, and then I eventually graduated to a hockey stick,” Abraham said about how he got started in hockey.
“The back-yard rink is pretty much where it all started, where I first fell in love with hockey and because of that began pursuing it seriously in hopes of one day playing professionally,” he added.
Following his minor hockey experience with the Halton Hurricanes Minor Midget AAA of the South-Central Triple A Minor Midget (SCTAMM) league, Abraham spent a total of four seasons on two Ontario Hockey League (OHL) teams.
Before being drafted in the 15th round of the OHL, Abraham was very familiar to the team that drafted him, the Brampton Battalion, due to his father serving as the team doctor for a while.
“I really enjoyed playing there, I grew up around that team, I attended games since the very beginning of that franchise, so, as a little kid those were the kind of guys that I looked up to,” Abraham said.
To get drafted by the Battalion was nothing short of an amazing experience for Abraham.
“To get an opportunity to get drafted there and eventually make that team was a little bit more sentimental to me than most people, so, playing my first game, getting to put on the jersey for the first time was something that will definitely stand out,” Abraham said.
While a part of the Battalion, Abraham played in 120 games, recording nine goals and 33 assists for 42 points.
“They were a team that gave me my first opportunity, so, I’m very, very thankful for them,” Abraham said.
Following his two-year stint with the Brampton Battalion, Abraham was traded to the Erie Otters at the start of the 2012-13 season.
Coming onto the Otters, Abraham knew they were a struggling team, but in his over-age year, the Otters went on a run in which they only lost two regular season games at home.
“We had such a great team and unfortunately we ended up losing in the conference finals to the Guelph Storm, but to see the team win a championship three years later with how close our group was and how great of an organization Erie really is, it kind of felt like we were all a small part of that championship,” Abraham said.
While a part of the Otters, Abraham played in 145 games, recording 15 goals and 42 assists for 57 points.
“I have a lot of great friends that I still keep in touch with that I played with in Erie, and a lot of great memories from a very great hockey team that I was fortunate to be a part of,” Abraham said.
While he did enjoy his time in the OHL due to the large crowds showing up for games and how the OHL is like a miniature NHL due to the state-of-the-art facilities, Abraham also has stuff he doesn’t miss from the OHL.
“U Sports, it kind of brings you back to your roots. It’s kind of you just playing because you love the game and because you enjoy playing with the people that are on your team,” Abraham said.
Following his OHL career, Abraham made the trek up to Kingston, Ontario, where he would spend the next five seasons under the tutelage of Queen’s head coach Brett Gibson.
“What caught me about Queen’s and Gibson, was he had a vision to turn this program around to make it one of the best in the country, and the way he spoke to me, you could see that he meant it,” Abraham said about his decision to go to Queen’s.
“So, I went with my gut. I had no friends here, I didn’t know anyone on the team, it was a bit of a leap of faith, but I took that leap on his words and his vision, and I couldn’t be happier the way it turned out,” he added.
While a part of the Gaels, Abraham played in 155 career games, recording 31 goals and 103 assists for 134 points.
“No doubt is March 9, lifting the Queen’s Cup at home. Our program hadn’t won the Queen’s Cup in 38 years. To have gone through the tough times with this program, to have gone through the good times, you get to enjoy that whole process, starting from the baseline and reaching the top, so, there’s nothing like winning, there’s nothing like winning something with 25 of your best friends,” Abraham said about his most memorable moment as part of the Gaels.
Coming in to Queen’s with little to no expectations, Abraham came in with the intent of focusing on his improvement in the sport of hockey.
And improve he did. Abraham got named captain of the Gaels for the 2017-18 season.
“Being named the captain is probably the greatest individual achievement I’ve ever had playing hockey, and for me, this year with such a young team, my goal wasn’t necessarily to win a championship, it was to do my best to make sure that those young guys love playing here as much as I do,” Abraham said.
With an influx of rookies coming onto the team this past year, Abraham captained a youthful team to nationals in his final U Sports season.
“I think that youthful energy, there’s no fear, there’s no fear of losing,” Abraham said.
“They always said they wanted to do it for the older guys on the team, and they said that seeing us lift the cup made them happier than seeing themselves lift the cup, so, I think when you have a group of guys like that who are selfless and want to do it for each other, that’s essentially what it takes,” he added.
And in terms of how the team grew since September, they grew immensely due to everyone buying in to Gibson’s vision.
“We went through a rut, we lost to a team near the bottom of the standings, we played some tough, close games against some teams at the bottom of the standings, and we found ways to get ourselves back in the games, we found ways to come back and win games, and we learned again that we’re never out of it,” Abraham said.
“That’s not something that you can learn overnight, it’s something that takes weeks, even months to learn, so, we seemed to learn those lessons just at the right time going into the playoffs,” he added.
Not only did the team come together at the right time during the playoffs, they also formed a bond by winning the Queen’s Cup that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
“I think the big thing is no one can be traded, so, the guys you come in with in year one, are the guys that will be fighting for their careers with you in year four, so, you go through a lot with those guys not only from a hockey perspective but you get to know them personally,” Abraham said about the family dynamic on a U Sports team.
Throughout his time in the U Sports league, Abraham has earned many accolades. He’s been awarded the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) OUA East Defenceman of the Year award in the 2014-15 and 2017-18 seasons, been named to the CIS OUA East First All-Star Team for five straight seasons between 2014-19, was named CIS Rookie of the Year and CIS OUA East Rookie of the year in 2014-15, and has been named the CIS OUA East Most Sportsmanlike Player in the 2017-18 season, along with many other awards.
“I never really thought I would be named a first-team all-star in every season that I played here, five consecutive seasons, I never really thought I’d win defenceman of the year, let alone win it twice, and to play the world junior team three times, it’s really hard to put into words at this point,” Abraham said.
“I don’t think it’s something that’s really going to hit me until maybe a couple years down the road, but it’s special, it’s something that I take great pride in, but again, I would trade every single one of those in to win that Cup like we did on March 9, because there’s nothing like winning as a group that trumps any individual award you can ever win,” he added.
Aside from all the awards Abraham has won, Gibson has said Abraham’s leadership will be his legacy with the Gaels.
“It’s obviously an honor. He’s a mentor of mine, he’s someone I have a great amount of respect for, he’s someone that really gave me an opportunity and really believed me, so, when you have someone like that in your life, someone who says something like that about me, it really does mean a lot,” Abraham said.
“Again, I think the statistics and numbers and individual awards are one thing, it’s great to be recognized, but to be recognized for the type of person you are, I think that’s the greatest compliment you can get, so, it means the world that he’d say that about me,” he added.
As for what he’ll miss most about Queen’s and being apart of the Gaels, Abraham said it’s the group of guys and the camaraderie.
“Just being able to go to the rink and spend time with 20 of your best buddies for three hours every single day, I think it’s something a lot of players take for granted and they don’t realize how much it means to them until it’s gone, so, hockey will always be there, I’ll always be there to play, I’ll always be there to watch, but being around the guys in the room, just horsing around is what I’ll miss most,” Abraham said.
Like many athletes, Abraham has faced many challenges and adversities to get him to the player he is today.
In his OHL draft, Abraham was drafted in the 15th round, 289th overall. And due to the fact he wasn’t expecting to get drafted, he says it wasn’t too difficult from a mental standpoint.
“But to get the phone call from Stan Butler and the Brampton Battalion was a special feeling. For me, getting selected, whether it be in the first round or last round, was nothing more than an opportunity,” Abraham said.
One adversity came in his second season on the Brampton Battalion. Abraham had a standout rookie season, but in his second, he was scratched from the lineup 25 times during the season.
“In my second season I was scratched from the lineup about 25 times, I thought that that might have been it, but again, was traded to the Erie Otters who gave me a second opportunity,” Abraham said.
Following his first season on Erie, Abraham then ran into another adversity as he got set to enter his final year in the OHL.
“Going into my over-age season, the general manager told me that there’s a good chance that they wouldn’t have room for me, that they were going to go with someone else,” Abraham said.
“Going into that summer was pretty disheartening, I didn’t really know what to expect, I just worked as hard as I could over the summer and I showed up at training camp and initially they were set on trading for someone else, but I ended up playing so well that I changed their minds, and stuck around the rest of the year and I think that was a turning point,” he added.
Due to the challenges that he has faced in his hockey career so far, Abraham has grown as a player and as a person on and off the ice as these adversities have made him stronger and more determined.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself, learned a lot about what it takes to be successful, not just in hockey, in all aspects in life, and I owe that to the great people that have mentored me, have given me an opportunity to play hockey, have taught me lessons, have not been afraid to tell me when I do something that’s not the right thing to do,” Abraham said.
“So, I think the great people that I’ve been surrounded by throughout the game have really helped me grow and develop into someone who I think is ready to move on in to the working world,” he added.
And along with the challenges and adversities hockey has thrown at him, Abraham has also learned many valuable life lessons that will help him afterwards.
“I think the big think that hockey has taught me is the difference between successful people, unsuccessful people, and very successful people, and I think, the big difference is consistency. I think unsuccessful people can have a good day or a good game, successful people can have a good year, but I think very successful people they can have good careers, and that’s because they’re consistent,” Abraham said.
“They’re consistent with their habits, they’re consistent with the way they treat people, they’re consistent with their work ethic and their discipline, and I think that’s something that I will definitely take with me and implement in to my everyday life going forward,” he added.
And because of these life lessons and his successful career in hockey, Abraham can take pride in the fact he enjoyed his time in hockey.
“I take pride in placing an emphasis on fun when it comes to playing. It’s a message I wish to pass along to the next generation of parents and players,” Abraham recalled.
“My parents didn’t put me in hockey to make the NHL, they put me in hockey because they knew how much fun I had when I was out playing on the backyard rink and they genuinely loved watching me play,” he added.
Following his Queen’s Cup win in his final season in U Sports, Abraham has made the decision to retire from playing hockey in order to focus on his law school degree.
While at Queen’s, Abraham finished an undergraduate degree in history in three years, got accepted into law school in 2017, and is now heading into his third year of law school next year.
This past Autumn, Abraham was hired by a Law Firm in Toronto, Stikeman Elliott, which mostly specializes in corporate and commercial law, and he has plans to work there this summer.
When people say hockey opens doors for you besides playing, they aren’t wrong. Through playing at Queen’s Abraham played alongside Kevin Bailie, a law student who will also be working at Stikeman Elliott, as well as Aaron Fransen, an OHL and Queen’s hockey alumni, who is currently a lawyer at Stikeman Elliott.
“It’s an example of what hockey can do for you, the connections it brings, and really helps you get the foot in the door in the working world if hockey doesn’t work out,” Abraham said.
In terms of his future in delving into a specific field of law, Abraham will be doing corporate law with an emphasis on Mergers and Acquisitions.
Although Abraham did get the chance to play pro at the end of this season, he realized after winning the Queen’s Cup, the Gaels jersey was the last jersey he wanted to wear professionally.
“With winning a championship this year at a school, at a place that means a lot to me, its kind of gave me a bit of closure. Again, I think this is the last jersey I want to wear, this is the last place that I want to play, so, I can’t thank my teammates and my coaches enough for helping me get that closure,” Abraham said.
And in regards to advice to junior players deciding to go down the student athlete road, Abraham has said to go with your gut.
“Don’t necessarily go with where you think the right place to go, where you’re getting the best scholarship, the best opportunity,” Abraham said.
“You’ll know when you know where you’re going to fit in. It’s a process, don’t force it, and when you get there, work hard, have fun, because this is the place where you’re going to find friends and make memories that are going to last forever,” he added.
And as for what he’ll miss most about playing a sport he has spent the majority of his youth playing, Abraham has said he will miss the feeling he gets in his stomach before a game.
“There are not many things in life that give you those butterflies or that unknown,” Abraham said.
“When you’re lining up for the opening faceoff, hockey is such a random game you really have no idea what is going to happen on any given night, so I’ll definitely miss that feeling, I’ll miss that energy and that excitement.”