OTTAWA – Jason Spezza didn’t get the call to represent Canada in Vancouver, but that didn’t dampen his Olympic spirit.
As the Senators returned to practice Wednesday for the first time since the NHL’s Olympic break began, Ottawa’s star centre said he’s been caught up in the action from the Winter Games, although more from the figure skating rink than the men’s hockey tournament that he could have been a part of.
That’s where Joannie Rochette of Ile-Dupas, Que., turned in an emotional performance in the women’s free skate just days after her mother, Therese, died of a heart attack. And where the duo of Tessa Virtue of London, Ont., and Scott Moir of Ilderton, Ont., became the first Canadian pair to win a gold medal in ice dancing.
“I like watching all the other sports, I probably get more caught up in that (than the hockey),” said Spezza, who wasn’t included on Hockey Canada’s final roster for Vancouver despite being invited to its summer development camp.
“You see Joannie Rochette there, what she went through and battling through and her skate, and the ice dancing. You find yourself watching sports that you don’t think you’d be watching and you get caught up in it and you’re cheering for the Canadians, so the Olympics brings out all the emotions.”
The way the Senators finished up before the break brought out plenty of good feelings too, and the players were in high spirits when they reported back for the team’s mini-camp to get ready for the resumption of the NHL schedule.
“The break is always good,” said Russian right-winger Alex Kovalev, who said he spent his break on the beach and watched “about a period” of Olympic hockey. “It’ll help to energize and get ready for the final 19 games and the playoffs.”
Thanks to their current run, the playoffs are something the Senators can focus on after missing out last season for the first time since 1996.
With Spezza leading the way offensively, the Senators racked up 14 victories in their past 16 games and when they resume action Tuesday night at home to the New York Rangers, they’ll be doing so from atop the Northeast Division standings, just a point behind the Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey Devils, for second overall in the Eastern Conference.
They’re just hoping the break doesn’t cool them off.
“When you’re playing well, you want to keep it going, but with some of the injuries we got toward the end – our defence was getting a little bit thin – it was nice to give guys some rest,” said Spezza, who has 12 goals in his last 13 games.
“If anything, it’ll get us to regroup and refocus and hopefully bring our momentum down the stretch run.”
With five Senators participating in Vancouver, just 14 players were on the ice Wednesday and coach Cory Clouston said the team will need to recall a defenceman from AHL affiliate Binghamton in the next couple of days.
Rookie blue-liner Erik Karlsson (shoulder) skated on his own Wednesday and could return to practice within a few days, but Chris Campoli (lower body) is expected to miss about four more weeks.
Left-winger Nick Foligno recently had his broken leg X-rayed to see how his recovery was going and could return in a couple of weeks.
The Senators will also be hoping that all of their Olympians return intact and with enough gas in the tank to be successful down the stretch.
Senators general manager Bryan Murray acquired forward Matt Cullen just prior to the break and is expected to pursue further deals before the March 3 trade deadline in the thinking that they may have enough to make a playoff run in the Eastern Conference.
If the team can find their pre-Olympic form, that may not be as much of a stretch as it once seemed.
“It’s not a mystery. We’ve played a really strong structured game,” said right-winger Ryan Shannon.
“Guys were playing their roles and our scoring forwards got hot, we had great goaltending, everybody kind of pulled their weight. But the structure of our game is the biggest thing. We know how to forecheck and we don’t give up many chances.”