WILMINGTON, Mass. — They've battled against each other for the past four years in the Ontario Hockey League. Soon they will be competing again for far greater stakes, vying for a spot on the big club in Boston.
It's the kind of competition that could lead to some animosity and a bitter rivalry.
It could, but not when Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner are the two parties in question. Knight and Spooner are the Bruins' top two forward prospects. They know they're both competing for what may be just a single opening up front in Boston this year, with the Bruins returning 12 forwards from last season. But that doesn't mean they can't be friends — best friends, actually.
The duo was practically inseparable at the Bruins' recent development camp, just as they have been at the previous two prospect camps since they were each taken in the second round of the 2010 draft.
"It's been awesome," Spooner said of the friendship he's forged with Knight. "We actually didn't know each other until our first development camp here. That was the first time we met. Next year we've been talking about living together possibly."
That would only be if they both don't make it in Boston and are assigned to the Bruins' American Hockey League affiliate in Providence. That's a strong possibility with the Bruins' veteran depth up front and Knight and Spooner both going into their first full pro season.
It's also possible that only one of them will get the call to the big club. That won't cause any rifts in the friendship either.
"He's a great guy and obviously he's a good leader, a great hockey player and I'm looking forward to playing with him wherever it is and looking forward to the journey than me and him have ahead of us," Spooner said. "Whatever happens, if one of us makes the big team before the other, we'll be happy for each other and we'll support each other."
Knight agreed, though it's not a subject the two 20-year-olds dwell on.
"We don't really talk about it," Knight said. "Spoons and I are good friends. It's healthy competition. We're going to be battling on the ice, but off the ice we're good friends. We don't take each other too serious. We're laughing with each other. We watch TV with each other and do everything together. So off the ice it's fine and on the ice it's competition."
The possibility of being split up isn't something they discuss too much, but the idea of spending more time together in Providence, or better yet in Boston, is something they've spent plenty of time planning out.
"We've talked about it and if that does happen we'll probably live together," Knight said. "We've already talked about if we'll split [the cost of] a TV or anything like that. But I know he has an Xbox so he's going to be bringing that down and we can play that."
If Spooner is providing the gaming system, what will Knight bring to the partnership?
"I just bought a dog, so I don't know if I'm going to bring him down or not," Knight said. "Maybe I will and we can both take care of him."
Knight also promises to take care of the kitchen duties. That's out of necessity, according to Knight.
"I know he can't cook, because he's tried cooking and he can't," Knight said.
Spooner spins a different tale, but Knight wasn't buying any of Spooner's claims of culinary proficiency.
"He's totally lying," Knight said. "He can't even tie his own shoes. So I'll be the one cooking, don't let him fool you."
Even when they faced each other on the ice in the OHL, Knight and Spooner found it difficult to keep from cracking up.
"I can't really take him that serious," Spooner said. "When we look at each other on the ice we kind of just laugh. It's fun. Obviously when you're on the ice you're always trying to compete, and we do. But at the same time we kind of know that it's a friendly kind of rivalry."
Spooner, who had 29-37-66 totals in 57 games last year with Kingston and Sarnia, is the slick playmaker of the pair, while Knight takes a more direct approach. He enjoys dishing out a big hit almost as much as he does scoring a goal. Unless, of course, it's Spooner he finds in his crosshairs. That's the one time he may pass up a big hit.
"He's always smiling at me on the ice and I can't help but smile back," said Knight, who had 26-26-52 totals in 52 games with London. "He's a guy that if he had the puck with his head down I don't know if I could really smoke him. I'd probably give him the pass on that one because he's a good buddy of mine, but it's fun playing against each other. It's healthy competition. It's tough, because he's such a good player. You always have to watch him because he's spinning and doing all that."
Their styles on the ice may be different, but off it they're a perfect match.