Spezza looking out for No. 1

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:57 AM ET

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. -- Sometimes, as Jason Spezza is learning, you've got to take a step back in order to move forward.

While he should be preparing to face the Maple Leafs tomorrow night at the Air Canada Centre in Game 2 of the Senators' season, the 21-year-old Spezza will be making his return to the AHL tonight.

So instead of a first-class flight and four-star hotel in Hogtown, it's a two-hour bus ride from Binghamton to Albany, where the Baby Sens will take on the River Rats in their AHL opener.

And after the game, it's right back on the bus to Binghamton to get ready for tomorrow night's home opener at Broome County Arena vs. the Syracuse Crunch.

This is a hockey-playing scenario that Spezza thought would no longer be a part of his life after he cracked Ottawa's lineup for good last season.

Now, with NHLers locked out and many looking for work, Spezza has decided there's no life like it ... for the time being.

GOOD ATTITUDE

"I know that I was sent here to learn. That's why I'm here and that's my goal," Spezza said recently. "I don't think you ever stop learning in this game and I know this can be a valuable experience for me to keep playing during this lockout."

That sounds like a guy with the right attitude -- especially when you consider that Spezza had other opportunities. He could have played in Sweden and talked to teams in Germany.

But after Senators GM John Muckler cleared the way for Spezza -- along with Anton Volchenkov, Brian Pothier, Antoine Vermette and Josh Langfeld -- to play with the Baby Sens, he accepted the offer.

Yes, there will be plenty of pressure on the other players and goalie Ray Emery, but most eyes will be on Spezza, who is viewed by many to be one of the players who will make the biggest impact on the AHL this year.

"I'm sure everybody is going to be expecting me to put up numbers here," said Spezza. "This league is going to be a good challenge for me and it's a lot better league than some people give it credit for. There's a lot of talent in this league and people are going to see that.

BONK TRADED

"I have to look at it this way: I'm getting a chance to get some experience while a lot of players are at home. Hopefully, we're going to get a chance to play (in Ottawa) this year, but until then this is a way to help me keep improving. I'm a young player and I need to play to improve."

With the Senators dealing Radek Bonk to the Canadiens in the off-season, there is a carrot being dangled for Spezza in Ottawa -- the No. 1 centre's job. He'll have to earn it if the NHL plays this season, but the time in Binghamton should help.

"The way I look at Jason Spezza, he has to become an all-around player," said Senators coach Bryan Murray, who was hired to replace longtime boss Jacques Martin in the off-season.

"You know that he's a skilled player and you know that he's got a lot of talent. He can improve the defensive part of his game and his awareness on the ice. He's going to get that chance (in Binghamton) and a chance to compete at a good level. We all believe Jason has a chance to be a complete player and a top centre in the league."

That's why Spezza is here.

"Look, my goal is to be a No. 1 centre in Ottawa," said Spezza. "I came here and I'm going to get an opportunity to play in those kinds of situations while I'm here. I have to learn what it takes to be a No. 1 guy and I'm willing to do that while I'm here. This is going to be a good challenge for me."


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