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Top Shelf: Spezza needs eye of the tiger

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

So many sporting lessons can be derived from the Rocky series. Unfortunately, so can some movie-making lessons; like when a horse is laying dead on the boxing ring mat, stop insistently beating it.

But before the Rocky movies went off the rails, there was a scene from the second flick I think Ottawa Senators center Jason Spezza should pay special attention to. It’s during Rocky’s brief retirement, before that arrogant SOB Apollo Creed entices him back into the ring only to have Mr. Balboa (portrayed, of course, by Sylvester Stallone) snare his heavyweight belt from him for good.

While Rocky is keeping busy by sweeping floors in a boxing gym, his notoriously thorny old trainer, Mick, barks at him to come over and teach some hot shot young punching prospect, “how to snarl!”

See, the kid’s got the speed, the moves, the hands; he just doesn’t have the mean.

Spezza needs Stallone to show him how to snarl.

There has never been any doubting Spezza’s talent. He’s a sublime passer with creativity and vision on par with Joe Thornton and Sidney Crosby. And ask Sheldon Souray about how elusive he can be. The video of Spezza undressing the big defenseman while Souray was still with the Habs has seen as much action as my cherished copy of the original Rocky movie (nay, film).

But has Spezza ever – ever – looked down at an opponent from his 6-foot-2 frame, curled his lip and let him know, without saying a word, it was going to be a long night?

Mark Messier could make reptile’s blood run cold just by squinting at him. Gordie Howe’s elbows earned him so much room he probably felt at times like he was back on Canada’s prairies.

Spezza? I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s issued apologies to players after undressing them for a goal.

I have to believe there’s an old-time player lurking in him. He still uses a wooden stick, for crying out loud.

Look, nobody expects Spezza to wake up and become Ted Lindsay. Or even like that brawler, Crosby. But he’s got to exude a little more nastiness on the ice, just so there’s no doubt in anybody’s mind he means business.

Ask anybody who was there and they’ll tell you last year’s Stanley Cup final was not a shining moment for Spezza. Through 15 playoff games leading up to the final, he posted 20 points. Once in the big show he produced but two assists in five forgettable contests. That’s because it takes more than talent to thrive when the intensity reaches its zenith.

Maybe Spezza can draw inspiration from sometime linemates Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson. Both of those men play bigger than Spezza, even though only one is (Heatley, barely).

Blessed with a tall, 200-pound body, there’s no doubt Spezza has the potential to inflict a little more pain out there.

Maybe he should watch more of Joe Sakic. Nobody plays a cleaner game than ‘Gentleman Joe,’ but there’s also nobody who would question the Colorado captain’s will to win as exemplified by the steely glare he’s demonstrated during two Stanley Cup runs and an Olympic gold medal with Canada.

Spezza has frequently flashed a likeable, boyish smile while ascending to lofty heights in his career. But to attain the next level, he’s going to need that snarl.

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