Spezza's game is growing

Senators forward Jason Spezza is maturing both as a player in the spotlight and as a leader in the...

Senators forward Jason Spezza is maturing both as a player in the spotlight and as a leader in the dressing room. (DARREN BROWN/QMI Agency)

BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:46 PM ET

The Senators needed a lift during a difficult week, so Jason Spezza took matters into his own hands to help bring up the spirits during an afternoon off in St. Louis.

Anybody still questioning the ability or desire of the 27-year-old Spezza to be a leader for this franchise — and there are plenty of doubters — can close the book on that.

The day after the Senators attended the memorial service for assistant coach Luke Richardson’s daughter Daron, Spezza felt his teammates needed a break.

So instead of having everybody head their separate ways, Spezza organized a trip to a St. Louis bowling alley the day before Ottawa closed out its four-game road trip with a game against the Blues.

“It’s been a terrible week,” Spezza said Thursday. “It should be fun to go bowling.”

Stepping up like that isn’t something the old Spezza would have done. It’s become obvious that Spezza is maturing.

And with his maturity has come leadership.

Spezza has easily been one Ottawa’s best players so far this season — something that looked like wouldn’t happen after a tumultuous off-season.

It wasn’t an easy summer for the club’s top pick from 2001. He was surrounded by trade rumours until those were put to rest July 1, he had his commitment called into question and he was heavily criticized.

But as the Senators hit the quarter-pole of the 2010-11 NHL season, all of that has been forgotten. After a difficult start because of a groin injury he tried to play through, Spezza is healthy, happy and contributing.

Spezza, who has found chemistry on a line with Peter Regin and Alex Kovalev, has five goals and eight assists in 15 games this season.

“I feel good,” Spezza told the Ottawa Sun in a wide-ranging interview. “It was tough for me at the start because I worked really hard during the summer, I came into camp in good shape, ready to go and I got hurt right (before the season began).

“That made it tough at the start. I tried to play through it. We decided to give it some rest and I feel good now. Hopefully, I can keep it going.”

Spezza is determined to be a No. 1 centre who can be counted on in every situation. Whether that’s being the go-to guy for a big goal or killing off a penalty.

Not only has he put up some good numbers on offence this season, he’s won 55.7% of his faceoffs, his giveaway/takeaway ratio is plus-8 and he is a regular on the penalty-killing units — a role Spezza asked for during the off-season.

“That’s one of the things (GM) Bryan (Murray) and I talked about during the summer: A way to expand my role and get me on the ice in more situations. That’s something I wanted to do,” said Spezza.

Murray was quick to agree to the request.

“Any good player wants importance,” said Murray. “He wanted a chance to kill penalties and it looks like he’s really focused on doing that. It’s too bad he got hurt coming out of camp, but it looks like he’s a better player all around (this season).”

That bigger role wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for Spezza’s desire to help take his game to the next level.

Spezza has done a lot to help himself. He might be a family man with wife Jennifer and daughter Sophia, but Spezza is still a student of the game — spending plenty of time studying.

His homework includes watching hockey. There isn’t much he misses. He studies opposing goalies before the Senators play them and he watches tape of himself to pick up areas of play he can improve upon.

There are players Spezza feels he can model his game after that he also watches closely: Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Tampa’s Steven Stamkos were on his list last week.

“I look at those guys and see what they do well,” said Spezza. “You watch a guy like Crosby and he does so much for that team.”

Spezza is willing to accept the pressure that goes with being one of the club’s top players. He knows he’s under the microscope. He wants to be better and he wants to show he can make a difference.

“I know that to have success in this league, your best players have to be your best players. I know with my role on this team that I have to be one of our best players every night,” said Spezza.

bruce.garrioch@sunmedia.ca


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