Welcome back, Jason Spezza.
The Senators, down 2-0 in their Round 2 playoff series with the Pittsburgh Penguins, will get a huge boost Sunday night with their star centre returning to the lineup.
It’s been nearly four months — an eternity in hockey life — but Spezza announced Sunday after an optional team skate that he wants to play.
And coach Paul MacLean told reporters he’s excited to have Spezza back.
“I feel good,” said Spezza, who says he has recovered from his back surgery.
“There are the obvious challenges but I hope that my excitement can help me get through and get things back as quick as possible.
“One of the worst things you can do as an athlete is watch your teammates battle (and not be able to help). There have been some frustrating times for me in the process. Hockey-wise, it’s been one of the longest years in my career, just trying to get back. Now that’s in the past ... I’m back. The excitement is that I get to play a game again.”
“He had to go through the medical protocols, then he was finally on the ice practising — he had to get through some hurdles there ... and he’s gone through all of them,” said MacLean.
“He convinced us he’s ready to play.”
Spezza knows that he has to shake off some rust but he wants to make a contribution.
“Being off a long time, you’re never going to be quite the same right away, but the doctor said everything’s fine,” said Spezza.
“It’s not like I’m expecting to play out of the blue. I’ve been putting in the time. When you come back after a long time off, you can give a little jolt to the team.
“There are going to be some jitters, but I’m going to try and use my excitement as a positive. Timing’s going to be the toughest thing. It’s one of the better parts of my game so I hope it comes back pretty quick. I’m just going to go out, work hard and play smart. I expect to play well. I feel like I’m ready to help the guys out.
The coach is treating the return with caution.
“We don’t anticipate he’ll be in that 25-plus minute game (Sunday night),” said MacLean.
“The minutes that Kyle Turris and Zack Smith have piled up, at this time, those aren’t going to change.
“We certainly feel (Jason) will give us some help on the power play, for sure. He’s got a lot of history with Milan Michalek, Colin Greening’s played with them in the past as well. Right now, I’d say Jason and Milan will play together and we’ll find someone to play the other wing.
“Anytime you can have a player of Jason’s ability, that’s a huge step. He’s a No. 1 centre. He can provide offence from anywhere on the ice ... that’s something we don’t have on our team right now consistently.”
MacLean confirmed that Craig Anderson will start Sunday’s game for the Senators.