Daniel Sprung is having his best season ever, but he’s not an all-time selection for the Seattle Kraken

It’s from 1-7 p.m. on a Tuesday in February as the No. 91 Seattle Kraken steps onto the ice at the UBS Arena in eastern New York. The kit for him and his teammates are white, navy blue and turquoise, the colors Puget Sound, the estuary that connects the city of Seattle, located on the American West Coast, with the Pacific Ocean. As the first wisps of fans on the field cheer the New York Islanders, the teams begin to warm up. Thirty-one more minutes to face offThe tee for every ice hockey game.

Above the navy blue jersey No. 91, and just below the apparel’s trademark three slashes, is the name of the only Dutchman active in the National Hockey League (NHL), North American ice hockey competition: Sprong, Daniel Sprong in all. The Amsterdam-born striker routinely completes his match preparations. He shot on goal several times, with a loose wrist motion the puck disappeared in the cross. Then he makes a cross and stops on the climb to discuss something with his coaches and take a sip of water. Once he jumps into the air and gives his teammate A.J Lump in the chest. And then, being among the first on the team, he steps off the ice on a rubber runner and disappears into the locker room.

It turns out to be a portent, because when ice machines, in the form of a Heineken can, clear the ice and dispense match formations, Sprong isn’t on the list. Passed, scratched It is also called in ice hockey. Because his coach Dave Haxtol will say after the match: “We have a lot of players who are in good shape, and Daniel was the one Let the strange man come out today.”

It is never indispensable

His coach’s decision fits with the career of the 25-year-old Sprung, who has yet to make himself indispensable to the four teams he’s played for in the past nine seasons in the NHL. In the past month, he’s only played five matches out of ten – the other games he’s played in the stands.

A stellar offensive talent, Sprung joined the Pittsburgh Penguins senior team in 2015 at the age of eighteen, which won two Stanley Cups with superstar Sidney Crosby in the first two years of Sprung’s career—Sprung himself never played in the championship playoffs. cup. His true breakthrough never materialized, and Sprong moved between the NHL and levels below in the years that followed, playing for the Anaheim Ducks, Washington Capitals, and Seattle Kraken.

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He was unable to impress the bottom team last season and so the Dutchman was without a contract for the first time last summer after eight seasons at the highest level. In the end, Sprong participated in the Kraken’s trials and his game was good enough to earn him a place in the selection. He was given a minimum contract that would allow him to easily return to level.

Sprong seized this opportunity with both hands. He has already scored more goals (15) and provided (15) assists this season than at any time in a year. He also equaled his record for games played – 47 – with a third of the regular season still coming. Thanks in part to his – unexpected – share, the Seattle Kraken, a team founded two years ago, is doing well in the Pacific Division and the chance of a spot in the playoffs looms large.

That’s why Sprung was disappointed to have to take a seat in the stands, he says the day after the 4-0 loss against the Islanders. He’s sitting in the locker room at the Prudential Center in New Jersey, the stadium where the Devils await their opponent the next night.

The Kraken players had just finished training, and the hall filled with deafening anti-boarding pucks slammed into the hall. Sprong himself scored a beautiful goal, after being well cleared by his teammate. After the puck flew into the net, they raised their arms together in triumph.

“I didn’t really understand that I was being passed over, because I’m having such a good season,” Sprung says, wearing a sleek long gray trench coat, jeans and white sneakers. He has a hip cap on his head. Then, in a pure Amsterdam accent: “But it is what it is. I have to turn the page and tomorrow is another game.”

At home in Montreal

Sprong may speak Dutch every day with his parents and grandparents, who still live on the Lindengracht in Amsterdam where Sprong grew up, closely following the achievements of his favorite soccer club Ajax, after eighteen years of ice hockey in Canada and the United States, he has and since , the nations adopted the North American “never give up” mentality.

When he was seven years old, the family moved from Sprong to Montreal. Father Hani, a famous ice hockey player who played for the Dutch team, wanted to give the talented Daniel opportunities for an ice hockey career that he never had. “My parents said we’d give it a try for a year,” Sprung says. The family did not leave. Sprung calls the Canadian city his “home”.

Easy on bell (skating rink) It wasn’t. Sprung says Canadian parents and children did not wish him success as a foreigner. “They were jealous. Then they decided not to pass me the disc, things like that. It’s not normal what I went through when I was young.”

It was in that period, between the ages of seven and sixteen, that Sprung learned to deal with adversity, he says. “Since then I know: It’s part of it that sometimes things go down a little bit. You can’t have a good day every day, that’s life. What you shouldn’t do is sit there for too long, you just have to keep going.”

Because of his talent, his parents’ support — he calls his dad Hani every day to discuss his game — as well as his swagger in Amsterdam, Sprong got into the NHL, he says. And this is where all these experiences came in handy during the early years of his career. In four of the nine seasons he played in the NHL, he fell one level lower. “That’s a big difference,” Sprong explains. “In the NHL you go to every major city in North America, you fly, you play in front of 20,000 spectators and you eat in the best restaurants. You live the luxury life. You can’t do it one level lower. You have to take the bus, there’s less crowd and you pay a lot less.” “. Sprong earns $750,000 (€700,000) at Kraken, which is the minimum salary in the NHL. This amount will be reduced to $325,000 if it moves to some level.

Defensive skills

In retrospect, Sprong calls the fact that he ended up without a necklace a “slap in the face”. It drove him crazy, as all these well-meaning people asked him where he was going to paint. “At first it gets annoying, then slowly it starts eating you up. I get more and more angry, more and more frustrated.” It was a period when one day he heard that a team was interested, and after a few days it fell flat. again and again. Sprung: “So you have to try to stay calm, but it’s not always easy. It sure is in your mind: Is this the end or do I still have a chance?”

Sprong decided to take advantage of the situation to work hard on his defensive skills. Later, he calls it a “wake-up call”. “I scored enough goals last season, but teams didn’t think the defensive part of my game was good enough. Because I didn’t have a contract, I had more motivation to start with that.”

Now he plays more physically, intervenes more in the game and performs better defensively. This gives him more playing time, especially during power-ups, when his team temporarily has one player more than the opponent. Sprong excels in these cases of redundancy. “I’ve always got a good, fast, hard and clean shot, and while playing hard there’s more room to shoot.”

Thanks to his good game, a new contract will appear, whether it is with another club or not. Spring really didn’t want to talk about it. He prefers to talk about the games yet to come, and the playoffs that must follow. But after some persistence, Sprung says he hopes to secure a two- or three-year contract. “I’d rather play at the highest level for at least another seven years,” he says. “It’s the best sport in the world and I love it, and I’m going to keep doing it as long as I can.”

So he never considered stopping, despite all the setbacks in his career. Sprung says the fact that he’s been able to make it to the highest professional competition gives him a sense of satisfaction. “I made it to the top and so now I can laugh at everyone who has been bothering me. It really feels that way.”

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