Spencer Foo ready to go from small college to the big time

If all went according to his plan, Spencer Foo and his Union Dutchmen would be busy preparing for next week's Frozen Four in Chicago.

But the seventh-ranked Dutchmen were defeated 10-3 by Penn State last weekend. It was a difficult way to finish the season for Foo.

Personally, he had been on a roll. He was one of the 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award as the top collegiate hockey player in the United States, and finished the season on an eight-game point streak (10 goals, eight assists). He scored the tying 2-2 and 3-3 goals in the season finale before Penn State responded with seven unanswered.

As a result, Edmonton's Foo, a versatile forward who can play both centre and right wing, had to decide early whether to turn pro or return for his senior season in the fall. Foo proclaimed on Wednesday evening that he will opt for the former and entertain offers from several NHL teams pursuing him.

It was a difficult decision for the 6-foot, 185-pound Foo, the top Canadian among the U.S. college free agents this spring. His brother Parker, an 18-year-old left wing, will play for Union next season. That could have been the ticket to entice Spencer to stay in school.

Parker helped the Brooks Bandits win the Alberta Junior Hockey League's Gas Drive Cup last spring. He also scored four goals and 11 points in the Bandits' four-game sweep of the Olds Grizzlys in the South Division semifinals earlier this month and will begin the division final series against the Okotoks Oilers on Friday.

But the time was right for Spencer to make a jump to the pro game.

"He's a diligent worker with a top-nine skill set," says an NHL pro scout, when asked for his report on Foo. "He's strong on puck recovery and strong in traffic with quickness and an outstanding compete level."

Small-town guy

Three years ago, Foo decided to accept a hockey scholarship at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y. He became even more enthusiastic about his choice when the small school beat the odds and won a national championship.

When he visited the leafy campus, not that far from Saratoga, the famed thoroughbred track in upstate New York, he liked the small-town feel. He also was impressed with the economics curriculum he was going to enroll in and liked everything about the hockey program and head coach Rick Bennett, a left wing in his playing days who briefly suited up for the New York Rangers.

Bennett and Union were the first to show interest in Foo as he finished up his his final season of junior with the 2013-14 Bonnyville Pontiacs.

"I committed to Union in January [2014]," Foo says. "I thought it was cool that a few months later they won a championship. I liked all the guys I met and felt at home right away.

"I've grown as a player and as a person in my three years here."

He also developed plenty of on-ice chemistry with Mike Vecchione, a senior and another highly sought after free agent who likely will sign with an NHL team by the end of the week.

Unlikely roots

That Foo became a stalwart college player who could be on the verge of signing his first NHL contract was a bit of a long shot, considering his father, John, was born in Guyana, a South American country mad about cricket, soccer, basketball and volleyball.

But John and his identical twin, James, moved to Toronto at age seven and shortly after shuffled off to Edmonton. They fell in love with the fast pace of hockey. Later, John fell in love with and married his wife, Diane, who hailed from Drumheller, Alta.

"I remember playing a lot of mini sticks in the basement with my Dad and my uncle when I was young," Spencer recalls.

The younger Foo has a passion for all sports. He grew up cheering for his hometown Oilers and Eskimos and has closely followed the post-season exploits of the Toronto Blue Jays after enjoying a few of their games live in recent summers.

Who knows? Foo could wind up signing with the Oilers and enjoy his own post-season in the AHL or as an extra in the NHL. It will, no doubt, be interesting to watch which NHL team Foo signs with to take the next step in his career