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Senators centre answers mentorship camp's call

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators centre Jason Spezza will be a guest coach for the Mentorship Cup, a showcase game for the top bantam-aged players in Canada which is slated for Saturday in Mississauga, Ont. It's the wrapup of a camp being held at the Hershey Centre (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images).

For Jason Spezza, mentorship is quickly becoming an important part of his hockey life.

He was the veteran centre that young Ottawa Senators such as Bobby Butler and Colin Greening leaned on when the trio became linemates toward the end of the 2010-11 season. More of the same figures to be in store when a much more youthful Senators roster hits the ice in the fall under the direction of new head coach Paul MacLean.

Now Spezza, who's anything but an old war horse at age 28, is taking the concept of veteran leadership in a new direction. He's one of the National Hockey League Players' Association members lending a hand at the Allstate All-Star Canadians Mentorship Camp, which is running this week at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, Ont. The camp features 42 of the top bantam-aged players in Canada.

"It's something they asked me about a couple of months ago," Spezza said of the camp, which is being led by former NHLer Gary Roberts. "Close to 20 guys are coming in throughout the week to skate with the guys. We’ll just go on the ice and help the coaches push pucks around, give pointers when we see them and just be around the guys.

"It’s a great initiative. It’s a very positive thing for the ’PA to be doing. It’s something that I think will go on for a long time. You’ll see the success that these guys have by getting in touch with some hockey guys and hearing about fitness and nutrition, and just getting little tips about playing. All in all, it’s a win-win for everybody."

The influence such mentorship can have on young teenage players can't be understated, he added.

"A 14-year-old is really impressionable, especially since these are all the top guys," said Spezza. "They’ve probably always been the best players on their team. It’s good to give pointers on what to do and (show them) the work you have to put in. As a 14-year-old, you find yourself asking a lot of questions and not really having a lot of avenues to get answers. This could be a place where (players) can get answers.

"There’s tons of guys that are going to be popping in. Forwards, defencemen, checkers, scorers … it’s kind of the full gamut and you hope the kids are comfortable enough they can ask whatever questions they have."

The camp wraps up Saturday with the nationally-televised Mentorship Cup game (2 p.m., TSN). It's being billed as Team Spezza vs. Team Schenn (Toronto Maple Leafs blueliner Luke Schenn), though the Senators centre admits "I don't know to what extent I'll be coaching in it."

"They told me I'm coaching, but they also told me I've got a real coach with me," he said. "It'll just be fun. I did it the year the Prospects Game was in Ottawa, when I coached with Bobby Orr. I was kind of his assistant coach and ran the ‘D,’ so I’ve done that before. The fun part is, I’ll get to know the players a bit (ahead of time) ... so you’ll have a bit of a feel for some of the players.

"You just want to help them along. I’m sure some of those guys will be nervous and you just want to be a positive (influence) for them. It’s just more about making sure everybody feels comfortable."

That might also describe the kind of role Spezza will be asked to take on when the Senators gather for training camp in mid-September. But he's relishing that opportunity.

"I’m looking forward to the challenge of having a young team and having to be good every night," he said. "Things aren’t going to come easy for us, but I think we’re going to be right there in the mix if we can just work hard and believe in ourselves."

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