Taxi duty will drive Spezza

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:08 AM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- Maybe the news he received didn't take Jason Spezza totally by surprise, but the voice on the other end of the line must have.

While Team Canada assistant executive director Kevin Lowe called Dany Heatley and Wade Redden in Philadelphia to tell them they had made the Olympic team yesterday, phoning Spezza to tell him he didn't was Wayne Gretzky himself.

Gretzky, the team's executive director, was in Brantford at the wake for his mother Phyllis, who died Monday.

Gretzky, who is dealing with a world of hurt right now, told the Senators rising star to be ready in case anybody on Team Canada was injured.

"It was an honour to have Wayne call," Spezza said.

Especially at this particular time of his life. But Spezza is clearly an important part of Team Canada's future and, by his gesture, The Great One wanted to let him know it.

The raging debate is and will continue to be this: Did the selectors make a mistake in omitting him from the 2006 squad? Many believe so. The very first posting on TSN.ca's website under the Your Call comments deals with the issue.

"Spezza should be on the first line, not the taxi squad," wrote "algonquinjosh."

A number of the other 225 fans who had offered their opinion by 9 p.m. last night shared his sentiments. Even Heatley, in his hour of glory, admitted a little bit of disappointment that his Senators centre didn't make the 23-man roster.

"We've been tight this year," said Heatley. "We've had some good success, had some fun.

"Him being on the extra roster is the next best thing. We'll see what happens. He'll be over there. You never know."

But other Sens, the organization, Ottawa fans and even supporters of Team Canada should not be overly disturbed about the decision. Fact is, it may work out for the best.

Spezza, who has been sidelined by a couple of minor injuries in the past few weeks, certainly won't suffer with two weeks of rest in February.

STAMINA CONCERNS

Nationalistic pride aside, more on his team should be so lucky. With the Senators favoured to make a long playoff run this spring, there has to be concern if they'll have the stamina. Heatley, Redden and Christoph Schubert officially found out they'll play in a high tempo, pressure filled hockey tournament in Turin.

Dominik Hasek (Czech), Anton Volchenkov (Russia), Andrej Meszaros (Slovakia), Zdeno Chara (Slovakia) and Daniel Alfredsson (Sweden) will be announced as members of their respective Olympic teams today.

Who knows what kind of shape they'll be in when they get back or, more importantly, come the NHL post-season?

Now, there will be some who get in a huff at the suggestion playing for gold in February is less significant than shooting for the Cup in June. But the truth is, for most pros, it is.

When Redden learned that he had made the team, he immediately called his parents.

"I think they cracked a bottle of wine right away," he said. "They were pretty excited, as was I.

"Going into the playoffs and winning that is probably No. 1, first and foremost. But it's a case of being 1A and 1B. It's the biggest stage in the world and it's great to be a part of it."

While Spezza is having an outstanding season, he is a first-year NHL regular. He has flaws in his game, and others have paid their dues and are more deserving. He also only plays centre and Canada is loaded down the middle with Joe Sakic, Joe Thornton, Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Kris Draper, a defensive type who must be included on the list.

Plus, you have to know Spezza is not going to take the snub sitting down. He never does. While he downplayed theories he would now set out to prove neglecting him was a mistake, he is a proud guy who is known to kick it into overdrive whenever he gets a chance to bounce back from a putdown.

"All you can do is go out and play, do your best," he said of his run at a Team Canada spot that fell short. "The selection process, you don't have much control over.

"This could help me out just being around guys that have won. The team is going to do extremely well and whether I'm on the ice or not, it's a good experience. It's all about developing your career and becoming a Stanley Cup champion. That's what we play for. The experience will definitely help me out toward bringing (the Senators) toward a Cup."

And then you might want to thank Wayne Gretzky, both for his decision and the way he handled it.


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