Friday, February 7, 2003
Written by Amy K. Nelson
SportsTicker Staff Writer
Since he was 15 years old, Jason Spezza has seen the hype follow
him at each stop along his path to the NHL. Now, he is as close
as he's ever been to fulfilling those expectations.
Spezza, the second overall pick in the 2001 draft by Ottawa via
the Alexei Yashin trade with the New York Islanders, is coming off
his first American Hockey League All-Star game where his 19 years,
seven months and 21 days made him the youngest player in this year's
Spezza finished with an assist and four shots in Team Canada's
10-7 win over PlanetUSA on Monday.
But his play during the regular season is why the Mississauga,
Ontario native was rated the 2001 No. 1 player on the NHL's Central
Despite past failed experiments in rushing young prospects, most
notably former first-round pick Alexandre Daigle, the Sens, perhaps
because of a need for the big club to draw more interest, called
Spezza up on October 24 in Boston, where he drew an assist in his
Spezza stayed with the club for 16 more games, totaling 10 points
(four goals, six assists) and a minus-7, until he was returned to
Binghamton on December 1st, where he has remained ever since.
"I'm just trying to have success at this (AHL) level,"
said Spezza. "But obviously the National Hockey League is where
I want to be."
Spezza spent most of his time in Ottawa on a checking line, not
giving him a good opportunity to receive quality ice time.
Management decided it was best that Spezza head back to Binghamton
and work on his skills.
Despite missing 18 games with Binghamton, Spezza is currently third
in AHL rookie scoring with 19 goals and 42 points in 31 contests
He leads all first-year players in points per game (1.35) and just
earned the AHL Rookie of the Month award after leading the Senators
to a 8-3-3-0 mark in January, including a 10-game unbeaten streak
and the No. 1 spot in the East Division.
With that type of performance, pressure to move up is inevitable.
"Growing up you learn to deal with pressure, it's something
I don't think about any more," Spezza said. "People are
going to write a million good things and a million bad things and
if you read them all, you're playing head games with yourself.
"I leave it all as a wash and if you want to write bad and
you want to write good, it's your call," said a smiling and
His odyssey began in 1998 at the ripe young age of 15, playing
for the Brampton Battalion in the Ontario Hockey League. Spezza's
raw offensive skills helped him pile up 71 points in 67 games that
season, after which he suddenly catapulted to the No. 1 pick of
the 1999 OHL draft by the Mississauga IceDogs.
It was there in his birth city, Mississauga, where he started to
flourish. His 61 points in 52 games started to mold the phenom into
Canadian junior hockey lore. His trade 15 games into his second
season with the IceDogs to the Windsor Spitfires in the 1999-2000
season became major news.
By then, Spezza had been putting on an offensive show for local
hockey fans. His sparkling puckhandling skills, lengthy stride and
long lean 6-3 frame enabled his dazzling passes, dekes and retreats
to fool opponents and find open teammates.
With comparisons to Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Eric Lindros
- so extreme was the hype, if Spezza slumped or looked lethargic,
fans would boo.
Like a frozen pipe bursting, Spezza's entry into a world of extreme
pressure and immense expectations, flooded his life.
But the mature Spezza remained focus.
In 2000 he joined Gretzky, Lindros and Jay Bouwmeester as the only
16-year-olds who have played for Team Canada in the World Junior
Championships. Windsor and Belleville during his 2001-02 campaign
were the last stops Spezza made before joining the professional
"He is as calm a player as you'll see on the ice," said
Binghamton coach John Paddock. "On the ice he's always making
something happen offensively."
That maturity in part is what will separate Spezza from the Manny
Malhotra's and Daigle's of hockey's past.
In the meantime, he still is a kid. He'll get there someday, and
perhaps then everyone associated with the Ottawa organization will
be glad he spent time refining his skills in the AHL.
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