Senators' Spezza weighs in on cockroach-eating and Michael Vick
In this week's Facing Off, Senators star Jason Spezza talks about how he has dealt with last season's loss in the finals, why he's no longer an Atlanta Falcons fan, whom he considers the best player in the game and why one day he might be a Broadway star.
Jason Spezza has been a lot of things -- a former model and teenage phenom among the most notable. Today, with his team leading the Eastern Conference, his main focus is on becoming a Stanley Cup champion.In this week's Facing Off, we ask the 24-year-old Senators star how he has dealt with last season's loss in the finals, why he's no longer an Atlanta Falcons fan, whom he considers the best player in the game and why one day he might be a Broadway star.
Spezza -- Quick Facts
• Spezza was selected second overall by the Ottawa Senators in the 2001 NHL draft.
• He holds the Senators' franchise record of 71 assists, set in the 2005-06 season.
• He signed a seven-year, $49 million contract on Nov. 2.
Question from David Amber: You started playing major junior hockey against 20-year-olds at the age of 15. How did that happen? Did you hit puberty when you were like 9 years old or something?
Answer from Jason Spezza: [Laughs] Yeah, I was always a pretty big kid. When I hit 12 or 13, my skating got a little bit better, so I tried out as a 15-year-old and I found out the game was pretty much the same, even in major junior, so it was cool.
Q: As a teenager, you were compared to Eric Lindros or Wayne Gretzky in terms of being this can't-miss NHL prospect. What was that like for you?
A: At first, it was a little bit overwhelming. You don't even know what's going on when you are 15 and these people are telling you, "You're going to be an NHL star." I guess I got used to it pretty quick and learned to deal with it. It became second nature to me. It has helped me more now when I get in a funk -- I have already dealt with people criticizing me, so I am used to it.
Q: Do you ever get that panic that you don't want to be the next Alexander Daigle or Brian Lawton, that guy [on] whom everyone put these incredibly huge expectations and never lived up to them?
A: I don't think I have ever really thought that way. I am a pretty competitive guy. I have always tried to push myself, and obviously I was frustrated my first few years when I kept getting sent down to the minors. But I kept my confidence and I knew once I got the chance to play regularly that I would show people I was the kind of prospect that they anticipated.
Q: You play with Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson. If the three of you have a series of one-on-one games, who wins?
A: Wow, that's tough. [In] one-on-one keep-away, Alfie is the best; he lives for keep-away. But just plain one-on-one, I'm pretty good, so maybe me. But [in] keep-away, Alfie would have the puck most of the day.
Q: Who is the best player in the game right now?
A: Probably Sidney Crosby is one of, if not the, best. Joe Thornton, I have a lot of respect for how he plays the game. He's a guy I try to watch and learn from. Vinny Lecavalier is another guy having a great year, so one of those three guys is the best.
Q: Who is the most underrated player?
A: I think Daniel Alfredsson is finally getting some credit now, which is nice to see. But when I first got here, I always said how good this guy was and he never seemed to get much credit. So I'd say Alfie is really underrated and he's starting to get recognition, and it's deserved.
A: Maybe now people are noticing him, but before, no way. Finally, he's getting some MVP talk, but before he didn't get noticed that much.
Q: OK, so who is the most overrated player?
A: [Laughs] Oh, come on. I have to play against these guys. I'm not touching that one [laughs].
Q: As a young child, you were a model doing commercials, on posters, in magazines. How did that go over with your peers back then?
A: Back then, it wasn't a big deal. No one knew what was going on. I didn't tell anybody. I stopped when I was 12 or 13. But the guys now have gotten a hold of it and have a good time with it. Brian McGrattan and Chris Kelly give me a really hard time.
Q: Do you have a favorite model now?
A: I was always a big Heidi Klum fan. Giselle [Bundchen] is pretty nice, too.
Q: And she likes athletes, from what I hear.
A: Oh, yeah. Tom Brady is doing well.
Q: How long did it take to get over losing in the Cup finals last [season]?
A: I think we still talk about it. The guys were talking about it on the flight after the game a few nights ago. Initially, after we lost, it took me a few weeks. I went away on vacation and I was still pretty upset about it, especially the way it happened, because we didn't feel we played our best and it was really disappointing the way we lost, after working so hard to get there. Losing last year like that is really driving us to get back there again.
Q: You said guys are talking about it on the plane. What are they saying?
A: We talked about [Scott] Niedermayer coming back to Anaheim and how it's important to keep the pedal down and keep home ice in case we do get back to the final. It's easy to kind of let up when you're playing Game 46 of the regular season, but we can't do that; we have to stay focused. We want home ice this year.
A: [Pause] Buffalo and us have a pretty good rivalry. We have played each other in the playoffs the last few years, so that makes it more intense. Toronto and Montreal is always a good watch; it doesn't matter how good or bad the teams are, the fans are always into it. And the Leafs and us [are] also pretty heated. Q: Who is the toughest defenseman to beat one-on-one?
A: [Laughs] Well, I didn't have too much success against Chris Pronger. So he may be the toughest one-on-one. In the East, Zdeno Chara is a big boy, too; he is tough to get past one-on-one. Q: You just signed a seven-year deal for a whole wad of cash. What's the first thing you bought?
A: I really haven't bought anything yet. I'm looking for a house in Ottawa. So that will be my first big purchase. And I'll take care of my family this year. It will be a good Christmas for the people around me [laughs]. They don't expect too much; we grew up a pretty humble family, so presents aren't a big deal.
Q: You are featured on the cover of the NHL 2K8 video game. How did you get that honor?
A: They called me after the season. I didn't think much about it, but they called my agent and I said sure. I thought it would be a cool thing. I still play video games, so it's great.
Q: You know that because you're on the cover, they haven't sold a single game in Toronto?
A: [Laughs] I believe it. All my buddies in Toronto are getting the games free, anyway, since I'm giving it to them.
Q: Did you tell the video-game makers that since you're on the cover, you had to be the best player in the game?
A: When I signed on, they had already made the game with the attributes and skill levels, but when I filmed the commercial, I was all over them to make me the best player for '09.
Q: I read your favorite sports team is the Atlanta Falcons. True?
A: It was. I was a big Falcons fan, but things have gone awry there, so I am no longer a Falcons fan.
Q: Is it because of the Michael Vick situation?
A: I am a big Michael Vick fan. I really like watching Vick, but with him not playing now, I have switched. I now like watching Tony Romo. I have switched to being a Cowboys fan now [laughs]. I guess I am fickle. I need someone to cheer for on Sundays.
Q: Off the ice, you hang out with Ray Emery and Brian McGrattan. Who is the wildest of you three?
Q: What did you think when Ray ate the cockroach off the dressing room floor?
A: It was ridiculous how big a story that became. It is all McGrattan's fault because the original bet was for Brian McGrattan to eat the dead cockroach off the dressing room floor and he wouldn't do it, the big, tough guy that he is. So Razor said "no problem" and ate it and it turned into the biggest, useless story ever. Ray got like $500 for it. It was a big cockroach; it was pretty disgusting.
Q: What was your reaction to the Chris Simon suspension?
A: I think it was important for [the NHL's rules committee members] to continue to set their standard. He is a guy who has a reputation for doing stuff and crossing the line. I think that's why they went so severe with him; they are trying to clean the game up. So, as a player, it wasn't a surprise that he got 30 games.
Q: Is there any player in the league whose game reminds you of yours?
A: Joe Thornton is a guy I like to watch. He's a dish man, he protects the puck well. He's the guy I try to play similar to. I probably do a little more one-on-one stuff than Joe, but he's a little bit stronger than me. He's a guy that I like to watch.
Q: If you didn't play in Ottawa, where do you think you would have the best time being Jason Spezza, NHL star?
A: Well, Jason Spezza, "the NHL star," would have to be somewhere else in Canada -- Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver -- just because you get recognized. But I think I would like to play in New York. It's a city I really like, there is so much going on, there are so many places to hide and do your own thing. Sometimes, the celebrity aspect is nice, but a lot of times it's nice to hide, too. So I think New York is a place where I'd love to play, and we play there a lot every year, so I go there quite a bit.
Q: So I guess Rangers fans have to wait seven years for you?
A: [Laughs] That's right.