Tyler Spezia is best known for his defensive work.
The Bowling Green junior is a reliable checker, excellent penalty-killer and blocks shots.
He’s finally earning recognition for his scoring skills this season.
Spezia is tied for second on the team in scoring going into this weekend’s Western Collegiate Hockey Association series against Michigan Tech in the Ice Arena.
The left wing has four goals and nine assists, playing in all 18 games. He also has an on-ice rating of +4 and has taken six penalties, all minors. Among the goals are one power-play goal and game-winning goals.
Spezia was pointless in the first six games, but has been one of BG’s hottest offensive players since. He has a point in nine of the last 12 games, including a goal and three assists in an 8-3 win Nov. 19 at Alabama-Huntsville.
“I was just in my own way,” Spezia said of slow start. “But I knew if I kept working, it would pay off. I was frustrated, but I wasn’t too worried about it. I knew my game would come out eventually, and it has of late.”
The Falcons had a difficult start, too, going 0-6-1 overall and 0-2 in the WCHA, but have rebounded to improve to 8-8-2 overall and 7-4-1-1 in the league entering the series against Tech (10-7-3, 9-3-2-1).
“When the team doesn’t start off so well, you’re trying to figure out what’s going on, and then you’re worried about yourself,” Spezia said. “Any time you’re struggling as a team, people are looking to guys to step up, and that can be a negative because guys are out of their element, and they’re trying to do way too much.
“It ends up hurting the team more than it helps. In the beginning, we were shocked at our slow start. We didn’t have the answers, and we were trying to find them. Our game wasn’t very organized. All of us were trying to do too much. Thankfully, we were able to turn it around.”
Spezia’s offense is generated from his skating and physical presence, and his ability to make safe and smart plays. The 5-foot-10, 171-pounder and linemate Mitch McLain have been one of the WCHA’s best duos this season.
McLain, a junior center, is second in the league with 20 points, including a WCHA-best 10 goals. Spezia is tied for 12th in points. They’ve been linemates and penalty-killing partners since they were freshmen. They’re usually BG’s first penalty-killers over the boards.
Spezia’s offense has increased by his power-play play duties this season. He’s always played extensive minutes 5-on-5 and on the penalty-killing unit.
“With the way the lineup has been, he’s never had a chance consistently on the power play,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “This year, he’s getting a chance consistently. The first two years are hard. The offense was always in him. It’s just a matter of it coming out. It’s coming out more this year.”
Spezia contributed offensively during his first two seasons at BG, totaling 16 goals and 10 assists in 73 games — while remaining solid defensively. He’s also emerged as a team leader and could be a captain next season.
“He’s been the player we thought he would be,” Bergeron said.
Spezia joined BG after two-plus seasons in the United States (Junior) Hockey League and the North American (Junior) Hockey League. He had 24 goals and 25 assists in 102 games, including 10 goals and 12 assists in 58 games with Youngstown of the USHL during the 2013-14 season.
“When I’m skating and moving my feet all of the time, that’s when I’m at my best,” Spezia said. “I try to play the game fast and keep it simple, trying not to do too much. If I do those things, the rest will take care of itself.”
Spezia said his offensive confidence was helped during the summer by talk with Bergeron.
“He told me I had more offense in me and I could take more chances offensively. That really helped,” Spezia said.
The chemistry he shares with McLain, his roommate since coming to BG, has carried over to the ice. The two never met before BG. Now, they’re best friends. The two live with junior defenseman Mark Friedman.
The rest of BG’s junior class — goalie Chris Nell, and forwards Brett D’Andrea and Jakob Reichert — live in the house next door. All six will live in the same house as seniors.
“We quickly became best friends,” Spezia said of McLain, who is from Minnesota and came to BG from the British Columbia (Junior) Hockey League. “We are best friends now, and we live together and it’s been a great relationship.
“We hold each other accountable, that’s what helps the most,” Spezia added. “We’re super competitive. We push each other to get better and succeed. He’s been playing great, and we complement each other. He and I have the same mindset on hockey and the way we operate, that’s been a bonus. We talk the same language. We’re on the same page. We’ve developed that respect and competitive attitude, that’s only brought us together more.”
Spezia’s success also is the result of summer workouts with Falcon strength coach Kenny Goodrich. He ran two days a week and lifted weights three days a week.
“He’s the put the time in,” Bergeron said. “You don’t know how kids are going to commit to it off the ice. Some kids get exposed for not committing. He decided he’s going to commit to it. That’s made him even more valuable. That was an unknown.”
Spezia was the only Falcon to spend the entire summer in BG. He’s from Clinton Township, Michigan, which is northeast of Detroit and about a two-hour drive from BG. Senior goalie Tomas Sholl was in BG for the final six weeks of the summer to work out with Spezia.
Spezia enjoyed meeting other Falcon athletes and seeing what their training was like over the summer, and he’s fallen in love with the city of BG.
“Staying here for the summer is something I wanted to do, but it was tough not going home, and there were times I was super bored here,” Spezia said. “But it was something that needed to be done because I was leader on this team. Hopefully, I set a good example and more guys will take advantage of the opportunity here in the summer.”
Spezia, who has a 3.0 grade-point average in finance, was named the Falcons’ most improved player last season and was an All-WCHA academic selection. He’s one of BG’s most versatile players, and can be trusted in every situation. While he’s a left wing, he also can play center.
In the summer of 2015, Spezia played for the United States in the World Inline Hockey Championships in Finland. The team finished fifth, with Spezia being the team’s second-leading scorer. He had three goals and five assists in five games.
“He’s an every-day guy,” Bergeron said. “He’s as low maintenance a kid as you’re ever going to be around. He just does his thing. His versatility adds to our depth. To have that versatility, just opens up so many options.”