Senators stand behind their man

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

They're the guys who have seen Jason Spezza play every game this season.

They have played with the Senators' centre shoulder-to-shoulder this year.

They're the guys who have to go up against him in practice.

They have seen him grow from a nervous teenager to a burgeoning NHL star, from a rookie to a go-to guy on this year's edition of the Senators.

As you might expect, Spezza's teammates are more than willing to serve as his unofficial campaign managers when it comes to his candidacy for inclusion on Team Canada which will play in the Winter Olympics in February.

The team is going to be announced in Vancouver next Wednesday.

"For one thing, he's the type of player who can find other good players in the open," said Senators defenceman Wade Redden. "He can get the puck to those guys. He's got that ability to move the puck."

VALUABLE ASSET

Redden, who is expected to be named to Team Canada, said he thinks Spezza would be a valuable addition to the team's power play.

With every player on Team Canada a gifted performer, Spezza could be the perfect table setter for a bunch of guys who know how to put the puck in the net (Spezza is the second-ranked Canadian forward, after Atlanta Thrashers centre Marc Savard, in power-play points with 18 in 27 games).

"With his vision, he can make plays on the power play and finds guys in a way not many guys can," said Redden. "I really think he's learned a lot."

Spezza, who missed Monday night's game with a sore hip and is not expected to play tonight when the Senators host the Dallas Stars, went into last night's games tied for fifth in NHL scoring. He has scored 11 goals and has 32 assists and is +20 (tied for fourth best in the league).

He's tied with Savard as the third-highest scoring Canadian in the NHL this season after Joe Thornton -- who's been sizzling since being traded from the Boston Bruins to the San Jose Sharks -- and teammate Dany Heatley.

Spezza is facing some tough competition in the battle for a spot on Team Canada, particularly from fellow youngsters Eric Staal (42 points) of the Carolina Hurricanes and Sidney Crosby (31) of the Pittsburgh, who has Penguins captain-owner Mario Lemieux stumping for him in the campaigning for Team Canada spots.

It's generally believed Joe Sakic, Vincent Lecavalier, Thornton, Brad Richards, Martin St-Louis, Simon Gagne, Jarome Iginla and Heatley are locks to make Team Canada.

That leaves Spezza fighting for one of five forward spots on the roster with the likes of Shane Doan, Todd Bertuzzi, Ryan Smyth, Paul Kariya, Brendan Shanahan, Patrick Marleau, John Madden, Rick Nash (poised to return soon from injury) and the Staal-Crosby tandem.

"A couple of things standout for me," said Senators defenceman Chris Phillips. "He's played for Canada before in international competition (three times with the world junior team 2000-2002).

"Another strong point for me is the chemistry he has with (Heatley) here now. (Heatley) hasn't been named (to Team Canada), but he probably will be. Those are two big points in (Spezza)'s favour."

NOTES: Senators president Roy Mlakar is in Scottsdale, Ariz., for the NHL board of governors meetings and told the Team 1200 last night he's not in favour of seeing the NHL's playoff field expanded, though he's going into the meetings with an open mind. There's a proposal (which could come up for discussion today) to have a "play-in" round for teams that finish in seventh through 10th place. "We don't want to be playing hockey in July," said Mlakar. "We're in favour of reducing games and getting better travel and this seems like adding games and travel."... After the buzz out West in Vancouver and Calgary during the Senators' swing earlier this week, Mlakar said he also doesn't like the fact the Senators only play the Western Canadian NHL teams once every three years ... The Sens will make their annual Christmas visit to the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. The players will meet with patients, their families and hospital staff to sign autographs. They'll also leave behind DVDs and miniature hockey sticks.


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