Fresh start for Spezza

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:11 AM ET

Jason Spezza took his place in front of the cameras and notepads yesterday as the Senators assembled for their annual charity golf tournament.

The 22-year-old was one of the players surrounded in the sunshine in front of the clubhouse at The Marshes Golf Club as the new-look Senators came together for the first time on the eve of training camp. They'll report for medicals today and hit the ice tomorrow at the Corel Centre.

Spezza has had lots of face time in his four years with the organization, not all of it for the best reasons. Getting cut three years ago by former coach Jacques Martin, who said the NHL was a man's game and Spezza was still a boy, was a low point.

So was Martin's refusal to use him in the Eastern Conference final in 2003 until instructed to do so (Spezza wound up with a goal and an assist on the winner in Game 5).

Martin also left Spezza out of the lineup against the Leafs to start the playoffs in 2004 (despite Spezza ranking fourth on the team in scoring with a third-liner's ice time), which frustrated Spezza to no end.

So, there is perhaps no player on this year's version of the Senators who should be happier to see a change behind the Senators bench than Spezza. Martin was fired after Ottawa lost the series to the Leafs and replaced by Bryan Murray.

"It's a different outlook for me now. Camp was like the playoffs for me," said Spezza. "I had to make sure I was ready to go whereas now you have to still be ready, but I want to use camp to be ready for Oct. 5 (NHL's opening day)."

Armed with more maturity and the experience of winning an AHL scoring title and MVP award, there will be no call to the coach's office and a ticket to Binghamton at the end of camp this year for Spezza.

Murray said yesterday he is planning on using Spezza to centre Dany Heatley, picked up in that blockbuster trade for Marian Hossa, on what could be the team's top line this year.

The other duos Murray would like see in the early days of camp are captain Daniel Alfredsson with Martin Havlat (who will be on left wing and likely with Bryan Smolinski at centre).

Centre Mike Fisher will start with Peter Schaefer on his left side. Other players will be rotated in around to fill out those central duos.

Spezza said he relishing the responsibility.

"It's something that I've tried to work toward. It's something I've always wanted," he said.

"I have to contribute for us to win. I can't hide in the background now. I want to be a guy who really has to be in forefront for us to win."

Murray said his line combinations take a couple of factors into consideration. He wants players who will be on the power play together to play full-strength together. Ditto for penalty killers like Fisher and Schaefer.

"Havlat finishes as well as anybody on the team," said Murray. "Sometimes I think (Alfredsson) overhandled the puck because I think he felt the player he might give the puck to wouldn't do as much with it."

This camp should have a different vibe. With a new coach, everyone from the captain through Spezza to the rookies will be out to impress a new boss.

"I think everyone was looking for a new look, a new approach here, so I think it's good," he said. "When you get to a certain stage in development as a team and you kind of level out, when you don't achieve what you want to achieve, making changes are what have to happen to give the core players that are still here a belief that you can win.

"If things work right, we should be a very interesting team to follow."


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