Abraham leaves behind a generational legacy

Queen’s captain closing five years with program Saturday in Queen’s Cup final 

Spencer Abraham (right) and Brett Gibson (left).
Spencer Abraham (right) and Brett Gibson (left).
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As a younger defenceman, Spencer Abraham never expected to be chosen to take a game-winning shootout goal during his first appearance for the U Sports All-Star team. 

Positioned against the 2015 Canadian World Junior team, men’s hockey Head Coach Brett Gibson—then serving as an assistant coach for the 23-man roster—chose one of his newest recruits to seal the deal. 

“I think I’ve been through just about everything with him in the past five years,” Abraham said of Gibson. “He looked at me and said, ‘You better not miss.’ [And] I went out there and scored the winning goal.” 

The decision to give Abraham the shot took him by surprise, but Gibson knew right away he was the man for the job. 

“When I stuck my neck out there, [the game] was on TSN and I probably overstepped because I was the assistant coach at the time. But, I knew what he could do,” Gibson told The Journal in an interview. 

Gibson’s sentiments, now almost three years later, continue to echo. To him, Abraham’s a “generational player” whose impact on Queen’s hockey program hasn’t gone unnoticed, and continues to resonate with those around him. 

But before coming to the Gaels in 2014-15, Abraham began his career with the Ontario Hockey League’s Brampton Battalion and then moved two years later to the Erie Otters to carry out another two seasons.

Upon meeting Gibson following a game with the Otters in 2014, Abraham decided to sign with Queen’s several weeks later. 

From there, he began to pursue his love of hockey alongside a professional career. He received his undergraduate degree in Classical Studies in 2017, and will advance to receive his law degree from  Queen’s in 2020. 

“It was different,” Abraham said about playing collegiate hockey relative to the OHL. “Coming here, especially with the school element, that was a big change.”

However, a new environment wasn’t enough to shut out one of the strongest defenseman in his age group. 

In his rookie season, Abraham played a consistent role in the Gaels’ success alongside defenseman and former captain, Patrick Downe. Downe would go on to mentor Abraham through his first three seasons with the Gaels, exiting the program after the 2016-17 season.  

“He was someone who really molded me into [being] the next captain,” Abraham said of his former defensive partner. 

Throughout Abraham’s five-year career with Queen’s, he’s been distinguished with both OUA and U Sports honours. In his first season, he was named the U Sports Rookie of the Year and OUA Defenceman of the Year for the Eastern conference. Last season, he was named the OUA East Defenceman of the Year for the second time, alongside being named the Eastern Conference’s Most Sportsmanlike Player.

In his first campaign with the Gaels, Abraham recorded 28 points, dishing out 23 assists and scoring five goals. His career-high regular season goal-scoring year followed, maintaining the point count but with nine goals on the scoreboard. During this year’s playoff run, Abraham’s scored four in seven games.  

Gibson believes that while Abraham was a strong player before coming to Queen’s, the program harnessed his offensive capabilities. The coach reflected on the opportunity to work closely with the 25 year-old, who now views him as a good friend.

“He’s the true professional. He treats my family, my kids, and his teammates the exact same way,” Gibson said of his captain. “I think that’s the ultimate compliment I can give Spencer Abraham.”

As such, it was no surprise to onlookers when Abraham was given the captaincy following the 2016-17 season after Downe graduated.

“Definitely, the greatest honour I’ve ever had playing hockey,” Abraham said. “Anytime you’re recognized by the league, it’s something special. But when you’re recognized internally by the 25 guys in the room, the coaching staff—those are the people that you care about most.” 

For Gibson, moving Abraham into the captaincy wasn’t an easy process. He watched his defenceman attempt to mold himself into the role, focusing on carrying the weight of his fellow teammates on his own shoulders. But it took Abraham a while to figure out how to keep the role from weighing on him—something he came to learn once he began sharing the burden and responsibilities of being captain with his coaching team. 

Abraham’s on-ice performance was dominant, but what began to resonate more with his teammates was their captain’s off-ice demeanor: a work ethic and maturity that he said was shaped by Downe. 

Aaron Fransen, former defenceman for the Gaels’ hockey program, only met Abraham a year ago, but was immediately drawn to him as a selfless leader—a true embodiment of a captain. 

Before this year’s Carr-Harris Cup, Fransen held sole ownership over the record for most points by a defenceman in Queen’s history at 116. Abraham matched that mark in early February, and the following weekend, surpassed Fransen. 

He now has 120 careers points. 

“It takes true leadership to get a group of high-achieving kids to sacrifice themselves, trust each other, and work towards common objectives all in the name of fun,” Fransen told The Journal, alluding to Abraham. “It’s a brotherhood—and part of a good brotherhood is a selfless leader who takes responsibility and is accountable.”  

Fransen played with the Gaels at a time when the program was relatively stagnant, and has since watched as Abraham’s career shaped the program’s upward trajectory. He believes Abraham’s played a role—regardless of the capacity—in garnering continuous buy-in from players into Queen’s hockey.

A similar sentiment, shared by Gibson, reflected on Abraham’s ability to start a “trail blaze” of players joining the program. The decorated defenseman’s experience developing as a player and professional has served as an appealing objective for up-and-coming hopeful recruits.  

For former Gaels goalie and current Assistant Coach Kevin Baillie, Abraham’s distinctions and captaincy were in tune with the on-ice “brother” he’s come to know. 

“His production, statistically, is obviously second to none. To be so dominant for so long is so incredibly tough to do,” Bailie told The Journal. “Spence is a calm, quietly confident individual […] You wouldn’t know how accomplished he is.”

Baillie added that the two have followed roughly the same path throughout their careers, featuring in the OHL before playing alongside each other and completing their undergraduate educations together. With careers in law, they’ll continue their journeys together in life after Queen’s. 

When the pair join Stikeman Elliot this summer, a corporate law firm based in Toronto, Bailie hopes they’ll continue to pursue goals together—even with their on-ice careers behind them—with Fransen at the helm as a Partner at the firm. 

“I truly consider him family,” Bailie said, adding their final goal of securing the Queen’s Cup together is a focus now more than ever.

“We’re almost there.”

On Saturday night, Abraham will play his final home-ice game at the Memorial Centre against the Guelph Gryphons. It’ll be the final step to achieving the goal he’s held with Bailie and Gibson for five years. 

“Five years ago, if you told me come year five, I’m hosting the Queen’s cup as the captain and get to bring the Queen’s cup back home for the first time in 40 years,” he said. “It [wouldn’t] get any better.” 

Despite the pressure, his focus for the night is going to be on soaking in the moment. Having played over 100 games in the historic Memorial Centre, he’ll follow his standard pre-game routine, having his pre-game meal the exact same way he has for his entire career.

“He’s a generational player and person,” Gibson said. “His points are going to be what he’s remembered for in the record books, but his leadership is going to be his legacy at Queen’s.” 

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