Spezza's shapin' up

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:22 AM ET

It was a busy summer for Jason Spezza.

The Senators centre wanted to be ready for training camp.

Ready for the regular season.

Ready to chase Sidney Crosby in the scoring race.

And ready to challenge for a Stanley Cup.

Spezza didn't take a lot of time off after the Senators' Cup loss to the Anaheim Ducks. After a short break, he hit the gym to prepare for the season, which begins when the puck is dropped tonight at the Air Canada Centre.

Last year, Spezza struggled through training camp after off-season back surgery. This year, he showed up refreshed, changing his training routine to include a couple of days on the track to help his speed and looking slick during the pre-season as one of the club's best players.

"You're definitely hungry," said Spezza. "We know we have a good chance here. We know we have a good group of guys. With the salary cap, you don't know how long that's going to last. When you have the opportunity to win the Cup, and we know we have that now, you have to make sure you're hungry going in.

"I don't think too many guys took too much time off and I don't think too many guys forgot about how it ended last year. We're going to be ready to go."

A restricted free agent at the end of the season, this is a big year he'll be in for a hefty raise, especially if he reaches the lofty goals he's set for himself.

"If I can stay healthy I can take a run at (Crosby)," said Spezza. "He's going to pile up a lot of points, but I play with some pretty good players on a pretty good team. We should win most nights and that's a key factor for a guy winning the scoring race. We've got to be winning hockey games because that's when individuals do their best. If I stay healthy, I feel I definitely can compete for it."

Coach John Paddock has noticed how hard Spezza has worked.

"His hard work is showing," said Paddock. "He's probably hungry for a couple of reasons: Where the team was at last year, which has really put everybody in the same position and, obviously, his pending restricted free agency.

"You want him to have a great year and win in June. It doesn't matter if you don't win."

The back may have been a bigger issue for Spezza last year than he let on publicly.

"I spent a lot of time in rehab and I wasn't in unbelievable shape coming into camp because of the back surgery," said Spezza. "This year, I trained for two full months at least and I got stronger. I improved on all my testing stuff. Even though it was a shorter summer, I feel pretty good.

"You can't get complacent on this job. That's why I tried to make sure that I did something to improve my game."

Spezza wasn't happy with his performance in the final against the Ducks. He believes the club let the pressure of being the favourite get to them.

He wasn't pleased when coach Bryan Murray broke up the trio of Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson and Spezza during the latter part of the final. But he understands why the decision was made.

"We were disappointed by the outcome. All the hype of us having to outscore them and our line having to do so well, I think we put too much emphasis on scoring goals." said Spezza. "We got away from doing the little things that we were doing in the playoffs. Before, we could go a game or two without scoring and it would be no big deal because we would win the games. We let the fact we weren't scoring get to us and, by the end, we weren't playing together. We hope to avoid that situation."

JASON SPEZZA

Born: June 13,1983

Hometown: Toronto

Drafted: 2001, second overall

Position: Centre

Last year: 34 g, 53 a

Career stats: 82 g, 171 a


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