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Mark Spector, CanWest News Service
Published: Friday, October 27, 2006


OTTAWA - It was exactly one year ago today that Jason Spezza became what everyone always thought he would be.

It was on Oct. 27, 2005, that he wheeled past three Montreal Canadiens skaters in overtime, deked defenceman Sheldon Souray out of his shorts, then shifted the puck backhand to forehand to backhand before roofing it behind Jose Theodore. From a season in which more than 7,500 goals were scored in the National Hockey League, it is a good bet that most Canadian hockey fans can remember the one Spezza authored that night.

He went on to have a career-best 90-point season last year. And as this season got underway, he told the Ottawa Citizen's Ken Warren, "To be honest, if I can stay healthy, the sky is the limit."

Who could blame him?

Spezza signed a new two-year, US$9-million contract. He has a nice house in Kanata, in the western end of Ottawa where the Senators play. Old nemesis Jacques Martin, the defence-mad former coach whom Spezza could never impress, is long gone. Spezza is just 23 years old, he's healthy and ... the sky's the limit, remember?

Then why are Senators fans booing Jason Spezza?

It began on his first shift of the pre-season, when he cruised across the Buffalo Sabres' blue line and dropped a pretty little behind-the-back pass for Dany Heatley. The pass was picked off, the Sabres took off on an odd-man rush, and Senators fans let loose on Spezza.

It continued in a 2-1 home loss to Colorado eight days ago, when Spezza passed up a shot in the slot in favour of another behind-the-back cutey. It was intercepted, rushed up the ice, and deposited into the Senators net, and, at game's end, the boos rained down as Spezza left the ice.

"When we were coming off the ice," Senators coach Bryan Murray said the next day, "I said, 'Why do you do that to yourself, Jason?' "

To his credit, Spezza has taken the derision like a pro.

"I want to be in a position where I am a go-to guy on this team," he explained yesterday morning, before proceeding to register a goal and four assists in last night's 7-2 win over the Maple Leafs. "When you have that you're going to get booed when you're not playing well, and you're going to get cheered when you are. It's something you have to learn to deal with."

Folks here would tell you that Ottawa fans are more impatient than most.

"The team's been knocking on the door for a long time here," Spezza admits. "The pressure is high here, as it is in any Canadian city. But when we do put the pieces together here and we do win, I think it will be a great city to be in."

In reality, though, it would be no different anywhere else. Spezza was a first-round pick who came with more promise than most. Then Martin sent him back to junior as an 18-year-old, and to the farm in Binghamton, N.Y., as a 19-year-old.

Although he was sour about it at the time, Spezza will admit now that the minor -league experience made him a better player. It also added to fans' expectations they would be getting a seasoned player once Spezza arrived in Ottawa to stay.

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