Leafs scratch Spezza for opener

‘I’d be ly­ing if I said I wasn’t dis­ap­pointed’

The Peterborough Examiner - - SPORTS - JOSHUA CLIPPERTON

TORONTO — Ja­son Spezza’s reg­u­lar-sea­son de­but with the Toronto Maple Leafs will have to wait.

The vet­eran for­ward was a healthy scratch when his new team opened the Na­tional Hockey League reg­u­lar sea­son Wed­nes­day night at home against the Ot­tawa Se­na­tors.

“You def­i­nitely want to be part of these games,” Spezza said af­ter the morn­ing skate. “They give you things to get ex­cited about.

“I’d be ly­ing if I said I wasn’t dis­ap­pointed, but I’m also a pro­fes­sional.”

Leafs head coach Mike Bab­cock said the 36-year-old Spezza — a for­mer No. 1 cen­tre — hasn’t quite mas­tered his new role, one that in­cludes killing penal­ties.

“This buys him more time, more reps,” said Bab­cock, who added Spezza will play Fri­day when Toronto vis­its the Colum­bus Blue Jack­ets. “He’s been get­ting lots of reps and ex­tra on it and we’re try­ing to stay with that the best we can.”

Drafted sec­ond over­all by Ot­tawa at the 2001 NHL draft, Spezza played three pre-sea­son games last month but was scratched for Satur­day’s ex­hi­bi­tion fi­nale against the Detroit Red Wings.

Bab­cock said Tues­day he was most con­cerned about the penalty-killing unit on a ros­ter that will fea­ture 13 new faces com­pared to last sea­son’s opener.

“We’ve got a lot new peo­ple,” Bab­cock said at the time. “Penalty killing’s a huge part of the game. You can play great and sud­denly it’s in your net.

“That’s our big­gest fo­cus in mak­ing sure we’re up to speed.”

Spezza said it’s up to him to earn Bab­cock’s trust.

“I have to get up to speed with what he wants,” the Toronto na­tive said. “For me, it’s just working every day and be­ing pre­pared.”

Spezza added noth­ing’s been lost in trans­la­tion in his con­ver­sa­tions with the coach.

“I think we’re pretty clear,” he said. “He’s been good with talk­ing to me. It is what it is.” A vet­eran of 236 NHL games with three teams, Nick Shore will play on the fourth line with Fred­erik Gau­thier and rookie Dmytro Ti­mashov.

“We can win face­offs, he can penalty kill, he stands in the right spots,” Bab­cock said of Shore. “He’s done it be­fore in the league ... just does his job.”

Spezza played 10 sea­sons with the Se­na­tors from 2002 to 2014 be­fore be­ing traded to the Dal­las Stars. He hasn’t killed penal­ties since his time in Ot­tawa.

“Yea, there is things to learn,” he said. “I haven’t killed a lot the last few years. Prior to that I killed more, but my role’s chang­ing. With chang­ing you have to learn, you have to adapt and you have to get bet­ter.

“I’m go­ing to do all those things and make sure when I get in I’m ready.”

Spezza, who signed with the Leafs for the NHL min­i­mum $700,000 (US) to re­turn home July 1, has 915 ca­reer points — in­clud­ing 332 goals — in 1,065 reg­u­lar-sea­son games with Ot­tawa and Dal­las.

He’s added 70 points (25 goals, 45 as­sists) in 80 play­off out­ings.

“You want to play to open the sea­son, there’s no doubt about that,” Spezza said. “The com­peti­tor in you wants to be in every night, but you play the hand that you’re dealt.

“I’m just go­ing to work and be ready. When you get in you make sure you play well.”

RICHARD LAUTENS TORONTO STAR

Ja­son Spezza’s reg­u­lar-sea­son de­but with the Toronto Maple Leafs will have to wait. Spezza was scratched for the opener against Ot­tawa on Wed­nes­day. For the game re­sult, visit our web­site.

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