With the unexpected early departure of junior-to-be Jason Clark who signed an NHL contract with the New York Islanders, Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves knew he needed another forward.
Traditionally, college hockey programs carry at least 15 forwards to give themselves some cushion in case of injuries. Clark's departure left the Badgers with just 14, and in need of another body.
Unfortunately with the departure of Clark coming so late in the summer, it would have been nearly impossible to bring in a new recruit and get them through the UW admissions process in time.
Fortunately for Spencer Bell, he found himself in the right place, at the right time.
The 6'2 forward from Maple Grove, Minnesota had planned on hanging up the skates after a senior year in which he recorded 45 points (19 goals, 26 assists) in 30 games, and helped lead his high school club to the state tournament for the first time since the schools inception in 1996. Bell had already enrolled at the University of Wisconsin as a student, despite numerous opportunities from junior hockey and D3 college teams to extend his playing career.
With nothing to lose, Bell contacted the coaches at Wisconsin to see if there were any opportunities for him to walk-on with the program. As luck would have it, the Clark departure provided the perfect storm of events for Eaves to add Bell, a 4.0 student with impeccable character references.
Bucky's 5th Quarter talked to Bell over the weekend about his decision to walk-on with the Badger hockey program.
Bucky's 5th Quarter: Can you just kind of walk us through the process on how you were ultimately given the opportunity to join the Badgers? Aka, how contact was made and what the timeline was like for this situation.
Spencer Bell: The way it all came together started with my contacting Coach Butters. I was pretty much ready to hang up the skates and call it quits after last season because I figured the only way I could play D1 hockey would be to go through juniors first, so I should probably just go to school. That's not to say I didn't want to continue my hockey career, so I thought "Well I got nothin to lose, I should at least attempt to contact the coaching staff in Madison and see if they have try outs or something." So I sent Coach Butters an email and gave him a call in late June. I also enlisted the help of my high school coaches Gary Stefano, Josh hicks, and Chris Dopp along with Cory Laylin, one of my former coaches. They got in contact with the coaching staff in Madison as well and kinda gave them an idea of the type of player and the type of person I am. A couple weeks later I got a call from Coach Butters basically saying they don't have try outs but they do have an open spot and they may like to bring me in. Coach Butters and I set up a preliminary meeting just too meet face to face, and then when I was in Madison for orientation in late July I met with Coach Butters and Coach Eaves. They seemed to have gotten a good idea of the type of person I am, so they basically said that I'm on the team as a practice player and we'll start there and if I can play then I may just turn into one of their big time guys.
B5Q: Had you planned on going to UW regardless of the hockey aspect? If not, what were the other options for you?
Bell: I had planned on going to UW regardless of hockey. I had some options from a couple D3 hockey teams and some juinor teams, but I decided early on that if I was going to continue my hockey career I wanted to play D1 hockey. Seeing as I didn't want to go to juniors, I though there was little chance of me being able to walk straight on to a D1 hockey team, so I decided to pursue academics instead. It wasn't until I was away from the game for a good 3-4 months that I realized how much I would miss it, so that's when I decided to do whatever I could to try and play hockey at UW.
B5Q: What were the deciding factors on you choosing to attend the University of Wisconsin?
Bell: My main college choices were UW and the University of Minnesota. When I decided to go to Madison hockey wasn't really a factor in the decision. I visited the campus and liked the city, the distance it was from home, and the fact that it is a well renowned school with good academics. Plus I had heard nothing but good things from people who went to UW, so I decided it was the school for me.
B5Q: In talking with the coaching staff, what have they told you in terms or expected role with the club next season?
Bell: In talking with the coaching staff they haven't really told me directly what role they expect me to play, and I think that's because they know that I already know my role. I get the sense that next season I'm basically expected to work my ass off. I'm coming in as a late, unexpected addition and I think I need to really prove myself this year. Along with that I think they will expect me to not only make my self better, but to make the team better as a whole and the way I can do that goes right back to what I said before, I need to work my ass off. Because if I'm going 100% all the time, it'll push the other guys to do the same.
B5Q: Your high school team made it to the state tournament last season. Despite the results, what was that experience like?
Bell: Last year was the first year that Maple Grove made it to state since it opened in 1996. It was a big year for the team and the program as a whole. We had a great senior core that brought us there, and the tournament itself was an unbelievable experience. I think every Minnesota hockey player dreams of making it there growing up, and finally getting there last year was a big accomplishment for me personally and the entire team as well. It didn't quite go the way we wanted, but the guys knew we couldn't judge our season on the last couple games.
B5Q: Since most Wisconsin fans haven't seen you play, can you describe what type of player you are?
Bell: I'm the kind of player that will work hard, battle in the corners, play the body, and make plays. I like to think of myself as a "team player" as opposed to a "super star" that's going to score 3 goals a game. When I play I'm just another part in the machine that is a hockey team. I play my role and rely on my teammates to play theirs as well.
Thanks again to Spencer for taking the time to talk about his decision to join the Badgers.
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