It may sound somewhat peculiar about one of the NHL’s longest-standing veterans, but it appears Jason Spezza has finally found his footing with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The 36-year-old spoke candidly to Sportsnet’s Luke Fox about his rollercoaster season to date and how he’s embraced being the veteran in the room among a Maple Leafs team that is propelled by their youthful core.
He was benched for the Maple Leafs’ home opener in a somewhat surprising move and opened up about his rocky start to the year.
“Coming here, I just wanted a role. I wanted to be a part of the team, and I knew that I’d be a guy who can move up and down the lineup, help out and fill holes with injuries. I want a chance to win. That’s why I came here,” Spezza told Fox.
“Opening night was definitely a little different, but I came here to try to win. And if you want to have a good locker room, when things don’t go your way, you have to keep your head above water. You have to keep everybody else positive.”
Spezza has seen significant improvement since Sheldon Keefe took over as head coach after Mike Babcock was fired on Nov. 20, posting a goal and four assists in his last eight games. Since Keefe took over, Spezza noted there’s been a marked change in the way his team plays stylistically.
“Our team as a whole is playing with more pace and a little more enthusiasm. I think we’re growing our game to what Sheldon wants us to play. He wants us to play tenacious without the puck so we can get it back quick. We’re trying to play defence really fast. We’re trying to protect the middle of the ice. And when we have the puck, we’re trying to not give it up.
“Now I’m in the lineup every night. And then I wasn’t. So, yeah, I have a bigger impact in the room and everywhere just because I’m playing. And then you get to see things. You get to see how the room’s reacting, and that’s where you really can use your experience. When you’re out of the lineup, you’re just trying to stay out of the way and stay upbeat and trying to keep yourself sharp.”
Through a host of injuries and organizational changes, Spezza’s season somewhat mirrors the Maple Leafs’ underwhelming start to the campaign, as the club is inching back into the competitive race within the Atlantic Division.
All it took was someone who believed in him.
“It was frustrating not being in the lineup at the start of the year, but now I’m in the lineup, we have a good team, and we’re trying to build, and it’s fun to play."
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