Spezza finds leadership role with Sens

BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:55 PM ET

SUNRISE, Fla. — Jason Spezza is taking the ‘A’ on his jersey to heart.

As the clock ticks down on a season of struggle for the Senators, the club’s top centre is trying to find ways contribute, trying to find ways to make a difference and trying to find ways to lead by example.

The last couple of months haven’t been easy for anybody in the Senators’ dressing room. But they have been particularly hard on Spezza, who’s watched friends sent packing one by one.

GM Bryan Murray shipped the likes of veterans Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly, Jarkko Ruutu, Ale Kovalev, Brian Elliott and Chris Campoli as the Senators went in a new, younger direction.

“I’ve had a lot of good friends that have left. Guys that I’ve spent a lot of time with,” said Spezza. “Chris Kelly was my best buddy on the team. (Fisher) and I played together for a long time.

“You get close relationships outside of the game. It’s tough. We saw it coming. We didn’t know how extreme it would be, but it doesn’t make it any easier.”

Management decisions have also thrust Spezza into a leadership role. So have injuries to his teammates. Captain Daniel Alfredsson is likely gone for the rest of the season with a bad back, while linemate Milan Michalek has a broken foot.

Now centring rookies Colin Greening and Bobby Butler, the 27-year-old Spezza has become a mentor.

He has eight points in the past seven games and set up another rookie, Erik Condra’s, for the game-winner Tuesday in New Jersey.

“There’s a lot of young guys. I’ve got experience now and I’ve been through a lot. I’m just trying to make sure that I’m a good example and playing well and helping guys out if they have questions,” said Spezza.

He’s also looking to finish the season strong with the world championships on the horizon. You’ve got to think Spezza will be in the mix no matter who is named Team Canada GM.

Spezza is finally healthy, which is a big reason for his improved play. He missed 15 games with a shoulder injury and returned Feb. 2.

By then, the damage had been done to the Senators’ season and owner Eugene Melnyk had committed to building the team.

Now back, Spezza faces a spring without playoffs for only the second time in his eight seasons in Ottawa.

“I missed kind of the worst part of it when we went through the really hard time,” said Spezza. “You expect to compete, you expect to spend this time of year gearing up for the playoffs.

“There’s no playoffs remotely in sight. You have to find different ways to motivate yourself and make yourself better. So it’s a difficult situation.”

But he is encouraged by how Greening, Butler and Condra have been contributing up front and with goalie Craig Anderson.

Spezza said he doesn’t think the road to recovery will be long and is confident the Senators can make the playoffs next season.

“The way we’ve played here the last little bit, you can tell there’s a lot of excitement and some good young players coming up,” said Spezza. “I still think we need to add a few veteran pieces to be a good team for a full 82 games.

“There’s signs that we can turn it around ... We have the right framework, we’re getting good goaltending and we’ve been in every game playing against some good teams.”

This ’n’ that

D Matt Carkner had his arthroscopic knee procedure in Ottawa this week. “It went well,” said coach Cory Clouston. “It’s going to be a little while before we know if he’s going to be back in two or three weeks.” ... C Ryan Shannon is enjoying his role with the club. “I like it. Playing important minutes, penalty kill and power play is something I like to do.”

bruce.garrioch@sunmedia.ca


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