Spezza isn’t sweating Olympic snub

Jason Spezza would have loved to be in Calgary on Monday practising his street hockey skills with Canada’s Olympic hopefuls.

Spezza isn’t sweating Olympic snub
Jason Spezza. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle)

Jason Spezza would have loved to be in Calgary on Monday practising his street hockey skills with Canada’s Olympic hopefuls.

And in his heart of hearts, he believes his body of work as an NHL player merited an invitation to the orientation camp, even if he missed most of last season with a back injury.

Instead, however, he was skating in an informal scrimmage at the Bell Sensplex with many of his teammates and other local pros.

But the Olympics team was the furthest thing from his mind. He was thinking only about the 2013-14 season.

The Olympic snub hurt, even if he did get a courtesy call from team management explaining that his back injury was the main reason he wasn’t picked.

But Spezza’s over it, and he’s not even clinging to a hope that he might be able to play his way onto the Olympic team with an offensively explosive first half.

His incentive for 2013-14 will be to have a healthy and productive season for the Ottawa Senators — not to prove Olympic team executive director Steve Yzerman wrong.

“For me, I’m more excited just to play,” Spezza said after Monday’s practice. “I missed the full season, and I have high expectations that when I’m healthy I can play well.

“It’s not my focus, by no means. It’s a little bit of motivation. Maybe it gives me a little chip on my shoulder.

“But it’s not my motivation for success this year.

“It’s just something that you can’t control. When they select teams like that, you could be having the best year of your life and they’d still find a way not to have you there.

“So for me, I just want to play well here and do well here.”

On that, he has his fingers crossed.

He has had a good summer of training, even getting on the ice earlier than he normally does, and has developed some new before-and-after game routines to baby his often-ailing back.

He’ll also make sure he takes maintenance days to rest during the season, instead of aggravating it through a practice he doesn’t need.

“You’re never completely out of the woods when it comes to a back,” he said. “But I feel strong and I’ve put in a full summer of work, so I feel as good as I’ve felt in a few years, back-wise.

“But I’m going to make sure that I’m taking care of it.”

Having a healthy Spezza will mean a lot for the Senators this year.

With him as their No. 1 centre, Kyle Turris can be dropped down to No. 2, a position for which he is more suited, and Mika Zibanejad can be slotted in at No. 3.

And newly acquired right wing Bobby Ryan needs someone of Spezza’s skill and vision to be feeding him.

“Hopefully we can build some chemistry right away,” said Spezza. “Bobby’s a heck of a hockey player who I think has room to get better as a player. He fits in real well with the group of guys we have, age-wise and skill-wise.

“I’m sure (coach) Paul (MacLean) is excited to work with a guy like that, and I’m excited to get a chance to play with a guy like that.”

The Senators would also like Spezza around, perhaps to wear the C.

He and Chris Phillips are the two front-runners to replace Daniel Alfredsson, who had been captain since the 1999-2000 season before signing a contract on July 5 with the Detroit Red Wings.

Spezza said the team has a great group of leaders — including Chris Phillips, Chris Neil, Marc Methot, and Erik Karlsson — and leadership will continue to be a group responsibility.

Spezza was first named an interim alternate captain at the end of the 2010—11 season after Mike Fisher was traded. In 2011—12, the A was made permanent.

But if the C is offered, he would accept.

“I’d love to have that honour to be captain of the hockey team,” he said. “We’ll see (what the decision is), but it’s not going to define who I am as a player or how I carry myself in the dressing room.

“I’ve had a big say in the locker-room the last few years as it is, and I don’t think that will change.

“Leadership is something that comes naturally. It’s not something you can force. I think I’ve established myself as a leader in the locker-room, and it’s something that I’ve grown into naturally and feel comfortable with.”

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