by Todd Anderson
This season Ottawa Senators centre Jason Spezza has been among the top faceoff men in the NHL. Heading into last night's game against the Atlanta Thrashers, Spezza ranked fourth among NHL centres, with at least 200 draws to their credit, with a 57.3 per cent success rate. Experience has played a big part in his success.
"It's about taking more draws and feeling more comfortable," Spezza says. "When I first came (to Ottawa), we never practised it. Now it's a regular part of the routine. (Faceoffs) are a bit of a mental game. You have to fight for your area. (New Jersey Devil) Johnny Madden and I fought quite a bit for space last game. When I came (into the NHL) three years ago, I always put my stick down first. It was a respect thing."
Spezza says that's not the case anymore. NHL rules stipulate that visiting players must put their sticks down first during draws. Spezza makes sure that's what happens at Scotiabank Place.
"(Colorado Avalanche captain) Joe Sakic wouldn't put his stick down first (during a game at Scotiabank Place on Oct.19)," Spezza recalls with a smile. "I told him to put his stick down and I would put mine down first when we go back to play them in Colorado in three years."
Senators assistant coach Greg Carvel routinely works with the Senators centres on gamedays to get their timing down for faceoffs. He says talented players like Spezza are the ones who seem to thrive at the faceoff dot.
"Definitely there's skill involved, " Carvel says. "The guys who have a knack for it have good hand-eye co-ordination and are good with the puck. Jason is one of the better faceoff guys in the league because of his ability."
Carvel adds that success in faceoffs is essential to enjoy success as a team.
"Especially on special teams and late in games," Carvel says. "It's a lot better to have the puck than to have to go and chase around for it. Faceoffs are one of those little things that makes a difference."