The changing of seasons never fails to put an extra bounce into Jason Spezza
Seven years into his still young National Hockey League career, the Ottawa Senators’ No. 1 centre is as enthused as ever about the start of a new campaign. It is a time when hope springs eternal across the league, especially in the locker-room of a team that believes it took a significant step forward during the 2009-10 season.
“It’s definitely an exciting time of the year,” said Spezza, 27, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. “You put all your time in during the summer and now you want to see where you are as a player. And you reap the benefits of all your hard work.”
Spezza surely is front and centre among those in the Senators camp who feel strongly that more good things await the team in the season ahead. After missing the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2008-09, the Senators got back to the post-season dance last spring and pushed the defending-champion Pittsburgh Penguins to six games before bowing out in the first round.
While the setback was difficult to accept — the Senators played the series without several injured front-line players — Spezza said there is plenty to build upon going forward.
“The way we ended (last season) as a team, we feel optimistic going into this year,” he said. “There are positives we can take (out of the playoff loss). We had some good young players play well for us toward the end of the year. It always sucks losing in the first round, but we feel like the series could have gone a different way if we had capitalized on a few more chances.”
With the addition of high-end defenceman Sergei Gonchar
to the roster, Spezza sees a team that still has plenty of room to grow.
“Everybody starts from scratch, so you can’t rest on how your team played toward the end of last year,” he said. “But we’ve got a nice addition with Gonchar and we expect (Peter) Regin and (Erik) Karlsson to play much better and continue to grow. Those two guys played phenomenal for us down the stretch, so it’s definitely something to be excited about.
“(Gonchar) is a calming presence. He’s one of the best offensive defencemen of his generation. To bring a veteran like that in is only going to help.… He’s a guy I was very excited to see sign with us.”
But no addition to Spezza’s world was more celebrated than the one that arrived on June 8. That’s when Spezza and his wife, Jennifer, welcomed their first child, Sophia Donna. The mere mention of his daughter brings a quick, easy smile to Spezza’s face.
“It’s been amazing,” he said of being a first-time dad. “It’s been pretty special to be around her all summer and to get a chance to watch her in the first few months.”
It’s been said that becoming a parent is a life-altering moment like no other. And Spezza expects it might well put hockey and life into a different perspective for him.
“It definitely slows you down a little bit and it keeps you home a little bit more,” he said. “We didn’t travel as much this summer and we spent a lot of time with family. It brings you closer to family.
“You cherish things. You realize how special it is. Hopefully, it’ll help me separate the rink and home a little bit, too. I think I’ve always brought the game home with me a little too much, so this will give me a good distraction at home.”