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Jason Spezza practices

by Chris Lund / Ottawa Senators

It has been a long time coming, but Jason Spezza hit the ice today for practice with the Sens. It's his first appearance on the ice alongside his teammates since his last game on January 27 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, his last game prior to undergoing back surgery on February 1.

The team skate is the next step in the rehab process, much like we saw with Jared Cowen and Erik Karlsson on the road to their returns, and we can expect to see Spezza at practice regularly going forward as part of the process to get his speed and strength back prior to getting in game action.

As things stand there is no projected date for his return yet.

"Truthfully it's hard to say. It's the first time I've skated with the team, I've been skating with the black aces for a bit and I was off for a long time."

However, like those injured teammates before him, the hope is that Spezza's return to practice will help spark some optimism amongst those who are in the lineup and get the Sens number one centre outside of the recovery "isolation ward" as described by GM Bryan Murray.

"The whole reason to get on the ice with the team was they're going to have some hard practices in the next couple of days and it'll give me a bit of a gauge to see where I am personally and see how things will go."

Given that today's practice was Spezza's first truly challenging skate of his recovery, how his body responds over the next 24 hours will be a good indicator of where he stands with respect to his timetable. A particularly positive response could, in theory, lead to a trip with the team to Pittsburgh and perhaps an appearance in game one or two. Still, those decisions have yet to be made.

"The day after is more where you see how you felt but I've definitely made improvements over the last few weeks to be able to get to this stage and now it's just a matter of testing it out to see how it goes."

Spezza's return to practice at-large is, in many ways, finally validation for his efforts to get back into shape after surgery. There have been many ups and downs over the course of his recovery and to step back on the ice alongside his teammates finally gets him one step closer to the original goal of playing and, potentially, in the playoffs at that.

"It's been a long process and a long season for me with frustrating times at parts but I think as a player you keep hope and keep pushing yourself and when you have a bad day you kind of leave it and get back at it," said Spezza. "I've never missed time in season like this before so it was a different challenge for me but I'm a pretty motivated guy and I always felt like there was going to be light at the end of the tunnel. When that is, I don't know, but I'm going to keep pushing towards getting better so I can try to play."

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