Spence embraces unique background in non-traditional path to NHL

Born in Australia and first introduced to hockey while growing up in Japan, Jordan Spence has embraced his non-traditional journey to the NHL.

Spence embraces unique background in non-traditional path to NHL

Featured Photo: Getty Images

Throughout the month of May, the NHL and NHLPA are celebrating Asian & Pacific Islander Heritage Month by highlighting the contributions and accomplishments of current and former players of Asian descent.

Wherever he has lived or played the game, Jordan Spence has always felt right at home.

The 23-year-old Los Angeles Kings defenceman has a unique hockey resume, one that includes playing experience in Japan, the United States and various cities and towns throughout Canada.

Born in Manly, Australia, to a Japanese mother and a Canadian father, Spence, who skated in his first full NHL season in 2023-24, has seen the sport of hockey in ways few others have.

“It is definitely different than most people, that’s for sure.

“But it helped shape me as a person and a player.”  

Spence first played the game in Japan as a young child.

“The main thing in Japan is respect, how you respect others and the game itself.

“That’s the one thing I took from back then.”

Photo courtesy of NHL.com

His hockey journey continued in Canada, specifically, Prince Edward Island.

It was not an easy road.

After being passed over in the 2017 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Draft, Spence, then 16, posted 13 goals and 52 points in 50 games with the Summerside Western Capitals of the Maritime Junior 'A' Hockey League. At the end of the season, he was named the league’s Rookie of the Year.

The 2018 QMJHL Draft turned out to be a much different experience than the prior year when the Moncton Wildcats selected Spence 20th overall.

“I love the game and I felt if I worked hard enough, people would see that.

“Sometimes, it takes longer than you hope to achieve your goals. You just need to stay strong and stay focused on what you want to achieve.”

Fittingly, he was awarded QMJHL Rookie of the Year honours at the end of the 2018-19 season when he scored six goals and recorded 43 assists.

Months later, he was drafted 95th overall by the Los Angeles Kings at the 2019 NHL Draft.

“That was such a big moment for me and my family,” said Spence, who was the QMJHL Defenceman of the Year in 2019-20.

“I had hoped for that moment for so long and when it does come true, it is better than you could have ever imagined.”

Spence appeared in his first NHL game on March 10, 2022, making him the first Australian-born player to play in the NHL.

Spence, who holds both Japanese and Canadian passports, is grateful for his one-of-a-kind hockey journey.

If he is viewed as a role model for others who have a similar, non-traditional hockey background, Spence is honoured to be held in that regard.

“You hope anyone, wherever they happen to play, gets the chance to chase their dreams and that they embrace it.

“That’s what I would share with people.”  

In 2022-23, he spent most of the season playing for the Ontario Reign, the Kings’ AHL affiliate, and played in six NHL games after playing in 24 regular-season games and three NHL playoff games in the 2021-22 season.

After a strong camp, he earned a full-time roster spot with Los Angeles for the 2023-24 season.

In 71 regular-season games with the Kings, Spence recorded 24 points and averaged 14:26 of ice time.

He also had the opportunity to return to his birthplace as part of the 2023 NHL Global Series in Melbourne where the Kings and Arizona Coyotes faced off in two preseason games at Rod Laver Arena.

“It was just an amazing experience, the whole year.

“Last year, I didn’t spend much time in the NHL. Playing a full season for the first time, I think the biggest thing I took out of it was working to be consistent every game.”

That approach extends beyond the rink.

“Taking care of your body, eating right, being in great shape you want to be at your best on and off the ice. That was very important for me.”

Spence has plenty of people in his corner.

One of his biggest supporters is a fellow defenceman and a two-time Stanley Cup winner with nearly 1,200 NHL regular-season games to his name.

“I have learned so much from Drew Doughty,” said Spence, of the 34-year-old, who has played his entire NHL career with Los Angeles.

“He is an offensive defenceman and I like that approach as well. When I have any questions, I always go to him and ask him.

“Drew is always there for me.”

As are Spence’s parents.

He is grateful for their unwavering support.

“My parents [Adam and Kyoko] have been great. I’m very proud to call them my parents. I couldn’t have achieved anything without them.

“My dad, he’s a big hockey dad. With the time difference between Prince Edward Island and Los Angeles it’s four hours he’s always taking a pre-game nap before we play so that he can watch the whole game.”  

Now back in Prince Edward Island for the offseason, Spence will take a couple weeks to unwind from the season after Los Angeles’ first round playoff series versus the Edmonton Oilers where he scored two goals in five games. He will then set his sights on preparing for the 2024-25 NHL campaign.

“Right now, I will relax a bit. I’ll start training again around the end of May and get some golf in too.”

At some point, Spence, as he often does, will reflect on his globetrotting hockey experiences and where it all led to.

“Looking back, it is very interesting how things unfolded for me over the years.

“Everywhere I have played, it has helped me become the player that I am now.”