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Spezza excited to be on Maple Leafs' side of Battle of Ontario

Center signed one-year contract with Toronto on July 1, played first 11 NHL seasons with Senators

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / Staff Writer

ST. JOHN'S, Newfoundland -- Jason Spezza will continue preparing for his 17th NHL season by facing the team he started in the League with.

The Toronto Maple Leafs center was selected by the Ottawa Senators with the No. 2 pick of the 2001 NHL Draft and played his first 11 NHL seasons in Canada's capital. During that time he discovered how bitter the Battle of Ontario games between the Senators and the Maple Leafs could be.

He'll be part of it again Tuesday, just on the other side, when Spezza and the Maple Leafs play the Senators in a preseason game at Mile One Centre (5:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN4, TSN5, NHL.TV).

Spezza, who signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with the Maple Leafs on July 1, said it's an entirely different feeling being on this side of the rivalry.

"Even the first time going to the rink, putting the (Maple Leafs) gear on seemed a little bit odd," said Spezza, who grew up in Mississauga, Ontario, just west of Toronto. "But it's nice to be home."

Spezza had 687 points (251 goals, 436 assists) in 686 games for the Senators, second in Ottawa history behind Daniel Alfredsson (1,108 points). He was traded to the Dallas Stars on July 1, 2014.

"I think the five-year hiatus in Dallas eases things a little bit but I don't think I ever would have ever went from Ottawa directly to Toronto," he said. "I think you see it happening a bit now. But back then? I would have never gone from Ottawa to Toronto. It's far too big of a rivalry."

Spezza said he had a number of offers during the offseason but opted for Toronto after talking with Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas and coach Mike Babcock. The expectation is for Spezza to be the fourth-line center, behind Auston Matthews, John Tavares and Alexander Kerfoot, and play on the No. 2 power play.

He said being home is great, but the chance to win a championship is what really swayed him.

"I've never won a Stanley Cup and that's the ultimate goal," Spezza said. "I watched the Leafs a lot. They're obviously a special group. They have some really dynamic players here. They're a team with some of the best players in the League. They have good structure and they're well coached. Good goaltending too. They have all the pieces.

"I think they'll be hungry after losing in the first round (of the Stanley Cup Playoffs) three years in a row. That was all an influence for my decision. I want to help nudge them over the top. That was all appealing to me."

Main photo courtesy: Mark Blinch/Toronto Maple Leafs

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