Jason Anthony Rocco Spezza (born June 13, 1983) is a Canadian professional ice hockey centre, an alternate captain of the Ottawa Senators of the National Hockey League (NHL). Spezza is known for his speed and playmaking abilities, and centres Ottawa’s number one scoring line.
After beginning his major junior career at the early age of 15 in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), Spezza was selected second overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by the Ottawa Senators. Playing in the American Hockey League (AHL) in 2004–05 due to the NHL lockout, he won the Les Cunningham Award as league MVP with the Binghamton Senators. In 2005–06, Spezza set an Ottawa Senators franchise record with 71 assists, while hitting the 90-point mark for the first of two times in his NHL career.
Internationally, Spezza has represented Team Canada at three World Junior Championships and two World Championships. When he made his World Junior debut in 2000, he became just the third 16-year-old in history to make the team, behind Wayne Gretzky and Eric Lindros.
Jason was born to Italian parents Rino and Donna Spezza in Mississauga, Ontario. He has twin siblings; a sister, Michelle, and a brother, Matthew, an ice hockey goaltender currently playing in the International Hockey League (IHL). Growing up in the Toronto area, he watched the Toronto Maple Leafs, but has cited Mario Lemieux as his favourite player as a child.
Baby modeling career
At the age of 1, Spezza won a baby contest and began his youth modelling career. The victory resulted in Spezza becoming the poster boy for Baby, a Broadway musical that played at Toronto’s O’Keefe Centre in the summer of 1984. At five years old, Spezza was chosen for a Minute Maid commercial. Two years later, he modelled clothing for stores Woolco and Kmart.
At 15-years-old, Spezza began his major junior career in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) with the Brampton Battalion in 1998–99. He recorded beyond a point-per-game pace as an underaged player with 71 points in 67 games. After one season with the Battalion, he was then required to enter the OHL Priority Draft and was selected by the expansion Mississauga Ice Dogs in the team’s inaugural season in 1999–2000. He recorded 61 points in 52 games that season before being traded 15 games into the 2000–01 season to the Windsor Spitfires. Spezza went on to record a career high 116 points in 66 games that season.
Going into the 2001 NHL Entry Draft having been named the Top CHL Prospect, Spezza would be drafted second overall by the Ottawa Senators after Ilya Kovalchuk went to the Atlanta Thrashers. The Senators’ second overall pick originally belonged to the New York Islanders, but was traded to Ottawa along with Zdeno Chára and Bill Muckalt for Alexei Yashin on draft day.
Ottawa Senators (2002–2005)
Following Spezza’s fourth OHL season in 2001–02, he was assigned to the Senators’ AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins for the 2002 Calder Cup playoffs, where he made his professional debut, playing in 3 post-season games and recording 1 goal. Spezza made his NHL debut the next season in 2002–03 with Ottawa, playing in 33 games and recording 21 points. He played the majority of the season, however, in the AHL with Ottawa’s new affiliate, the Binghamton Senators, and was called up regularly to replace injured Ottawa players. He also competed in 3 playoff games with Ottawa during his rookie season, helping the team in its 2003 playoff run to the semifinals. The Senators came within one game of the Finals, losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils.
Spezza played his first full NHL season with the Senators in 2003–04 and scored 22 goals and 55 points in 78 games. However, due to the subsequent NHL lockout, Spezza returned to the AHL in 2004–05. Scoring 117 points with Binghamton, he outscored Mike Cammalleri of the Manchester Monarchs by 8 points to capture the John B. Sollenberger Trophy as the league’s leading scorer. Spezza was also awarded the Les Cunningham Award as league MVP.
Ottawa Senators (2005–present)
With NHL play set to resume in 2005–06, Spezza returned to Ottawa. Having traded centres Radek Bonk and Todd White off-season, the Senators started Spezza on the first line between Dany Heatley and rookie Brandon Bochenski, who was Spezza’s linemate in Binghamton. After captain Daniel Alfredsson replaced Bochenski on the top line (Bochenski was soon thereafter traded), the trio, nicknamed the ‘CASH’ and ‘Pizza’ line, established themselves as one of the most productive line in the NHL. Wingers Alfredsson and Heatley both finished tied for fourth in league scoring with 103 points, while Spezza tallied 90 points despite an injury-shortened 68-game season. His 71 assists established a team single-season record and was second in the league behind Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks (96 assists). In the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Senators defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round, but fell to the Buffalo Sabres in five games. Spezza added 14 points in 10 post-season games.
During the summer of 2006, Spezza underwent successful back surgery. The following season, he continued on the same pace with Heatley and Alfredsson before suffering another injury. He managed a career-high 34 goals and finished with 87 points in 67 games. On May 19, 2007, he scored a goal and an assist as the Senators defeated the Buffalo Sabres in the Eastern Conference final 4 games to 1. They moved to the Stanley Cup finals against the Anaheim Ducks, but lost in five games after the Spezza-Heatley-Alfredsson line failed to perform against Samuel Påhlsson‘s checking line, backed by star defencemen Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger. Spezza finished the playoffs with a franchise-record 22 post-season points, tied with linemates Alfredsson and Heatley.
Beginning 2007–08 in the last season of his contract, Spezza signed a seven-year contract extension with the Senators worth $49 million on November 2, 2007. Late that season, on February 9, 2008, Spezza scored his first NHL hat-trick during a 6–1 Senators victory over the Montreal Canadiens. Spezza contributed to all of his team’s goals, for a career-high 6-point night. He finished tying his career-high in goals with 34 and establishing a new personal mark for points with 92. The Senators, however, failed to advance past the first round following their Stanley Cup run the previous season, falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins in four games.
The 2008–09 season was a disappointing one for both Spezza and the Senators. Though he managed to remain injury-free and played in all of his team’s 82 games for the first time in his NHL career, his point production decreased. Spezza managed 73 points in 82 games, and while still respectable, the numbers were his lowest totals since his first full NHL season in 2003–04. The team struggled all season long, and would miss the playoffs for the first time since 1995–96.
Despite missing 22 games due to injury in the 2009-10 season, Spezza still managed to score 23 goals and pick up 34 assists for 57 points in 60 games to finish second on the team in scoring. In the first round of the playoffs, the Senators lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins 4 games to 2. Spezza finished with 1 goal and 6 assists for 7 points in the six games. He also led the team in shots on goal with 24. However, Spezza’s poor defensive play and costly turnovers in that series resulted in him being booed by fans at Scotiabank Place, and the following off-season was rife with speculation that he would be traded. Spezza himself admitted that he would not object to a trade out of Ottawa. Ultimately, no trade was forthcoming and Spezza remained an Ottawa Senator.
On Sunday, December 26, 2010, in a 3–1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, Spezza was checked from behind into the boards by Penguins defenseman Kris Letang. Letang received a two-minute penalty for boarding and Spezza was expected to miss 4 to 6 weeks due to the shoulder injury he suffered as a result from Letang’s hit from behind.
Spezza at the 2008 World Championships
|Competitor for Canada|
|World Junior Championships|
|Silver||2002 Czech Republic|
As a junior, Spezza represented Canada’s national junior team three consecutive years. He made his debut at the 2000 World Junior Championshiops, becoming just the third 16-year-old to make the team in Team Canada history, after Wayne Gretzky and Eric Lindros (this feat was also accomplished the same year by defenceman Jay Bouwmeester and Sidney Crosby in 2004). Spezza contributed 2 assists in 7 games as Canada captured a bronze medal. He returned in 2001 for a second consecutive bronze medal, while improving to 3 goals and 3 assists. Spezza made it to the gold medal game with Team Canada in his third and final World Junior appearance in 2002, but lost to Russia to earn the silver.
As a member of the Senators, Spezza was made a reserve for Team Canada at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, but did not play. He would make his men’s debut for Team Canada at the 2008 World Championships, being named to the team along with Senators linemate Dany Heatley. He earned a silver medal, losing to Russia in the gold medal game. With the Senators failing to make the NHL playoffs the following year, Spezza again represented Canada at the 2009 World Championships. He won another silver medal, losing to Russia in the gold medal game for the second consecutive year. Spezza, along with Finland’s Niko Kapanen and fellow Canadian Steven Stamkos, finished the tournament tied for first in goal scoring with 7.
Despite his success with the national team in the two previous World Championships, as well as being named a reserve for the 2006 Olympic team, Spezza was left off Team Canada’s initial summer camp roster in preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. However, after veteran Joe Sakic announced his retirement and Ryan Getzlaf declared he required more time to recover from injury, Spezza was invited to fill in one of the vacant spots.
Off the ice
Spezza participates in numerous activities outside of hockey, especially the “Spelling with Spezza” program. Winners receive a poster of Spezza and a pair of tickets to a Senators’ home game. The program recognizes the importance of spelling. Spezza visits selected classes registered for the program. Last season over 600 classes in the Ottawa-Gatineau area participated in Spelling with Spezza. He also contributes to Ronald McDonald House Charities.
Spezza wed his girlfriend, Jennifer Snell, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on July 25, 2009. The ceremony took place at Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica and the reception was held across the street at the National Gallery of Canada. Many of his current and past teammates were in attendance including Ray Emery, Antoine Vermette, Brendan Bell, Chris Phillips, Chris Neil, and Senators owner Eugene Melnyk. However, close friend and former line-mate Dany Heatley was not in attendance.