LOS ANGELES — As a professional athlete motivated to showcase himself every game, Ottawa Senators centre Jason Spezza found it extremely difficult to sit out Wednesday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings.
Yet as the new captain of the Senators, Spezza understands that sometimes it’s necessary to sacrifice your own personal goals for those of the team around you.
That’s why Spezza grudgingly accepted the consensus opinion of head coach Paul MacLean, assistants Dave Cameron and Mark Reeds, general manager Bryan Murray and the Senators training staff, opting to rest his nagging groin injury in the hopes that the one game of rest will put the ailment to rest for good.
The Senators hope Spezza will be back in the lineup for Saturday’s game against the San Jose Sharks and Sunday’s contest versus the Anaheim Ducks.
Stephane Da Costa took Spezza’s spot in the lineup against the Kings, starting Wednesday’s game in Spezza’s position between left winger Milan Michalek and right winger Bobby Ryan.
“I also have the responsibility to make a decision for the team,” said Spezza, who played only two pre-season games and was missing his usual jump in the club’s opening two regular season games against the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs. “I’m the captain of this team and I don’t want to jeopardize this — me not playing for a longer period of time just because I feel like I can play.”
Spezza says it’s the “informed decision,” but he acknowledges it didn’t come easily, especially since he played only five regular season games during the 2013 season due to back surgery.
“I’ve missed a lot of time and a lot of games and that’s frustrating and that plays into it, too,” he said. “I hated the way the year went last year by missing all the games and having surgery and because of it, I want to play every game. If I played 82 games last season, it would probably be less of a big deal to miss this game. But it comes down to just making the right decision.”
MacLean sympathizes with Spezza’s position.
Every athlete, he says, believes they can make a difference every game, even if they’re not in perfect health. Spezza is no different.
“It was a difficult process for me,” the coach said. “Jason is the captain of the team, he’s one of the best players in the league. We want him to play for sure. But at the end of the day, we have to sit down and have a good discussion as to what’s in the best interest for not only him, but what’s in the best interest of the team moving forward. And the best thing to do is for him to get himself ready to go and miss tonight and be ready to go on Saturday and move forward from there.”
The Senators were scheduled to fly to San Jose from Los Angeles immediately following Wednesday’s game, with two more days off before meeting the Sharks on Saturday. The plan calls for Spezza to put in a couple of hard work days Thursday and Friday in order to be up to speed to meet the Sharks.
There was a danger that if Spezza played Wednesday and then was forced to play back-to-back games on the weekend, the groin could get worse. Or, as MacLean put it, “we want to be in control of the injury, rather than injury controlling us.”
Spezza says he has noticed a significant improvement.
“I felt pretty good the last couple of days and I’m going to skate pretty hard in the next couple of days just to show them I can skate full speed,” he said. “I missed a few days in (training) camp and I’m going to use the next couple of days for conditioning.”
Eventually, Spezza hopes, he’ll put all the unscheduled rest to rest.
“Hopefully, we never have to talk about my groin again,” he said.