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Spezza gets back on ice for Senators

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Kris Letang defends the Senators' Jason Spezza during the second period Sunday, May 19, 2013, at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa.

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Tim Baines
Sunday, May 19, 2013, 10:42 p.m.
 

OTTAWA — Nearly four months of wondering when he would play hockey again ended for Jason Spezza on Sunday night.

Sidelined by Feb. 1 surgery to fix a herniated disc in his back, Spezza rejoined the Ottawa Senators lineup and was watched closely by the Penguins. He is, after all, a guy who had 84 points a year ago.

Spezza fought for space and mixed it up physically a bit, but even with thousands of fans chanting his name, he wasn't able to put points on the board. But the Senators still won, 2-1, in double overtime with Colin Greening scoring the winner.

It was the second time Spezza had been on the operating table for his balky back. Spezza said there was no hesitation to sidetrack his season, not after playing half a season with agonizing back pain six years ago. Back then, Spezza first felt pain in December, battled through it, hoping it would go away. It didn't. He had surgery in the summer of 2006.

“It got to the point where I couldn't go out to dinner with the guys, I'd eat standing up,” said Spezza. “I slept on the floor. I'd start on the bed and wind up on the floor. Those were pretty dark times.”

So when it happened this time, there was no hesitation.

“For whatever reason, one or two games into the season, it flared up,” said Spezza. “I wasn't messing around with it. I took a cortisone shot, and it didn't do anything. When you take a cortisone shot and it doesn't work, you know it's time for surgery.

“The surgeon warned me ahead of time that this might shut me down for the year. Fortunately for me, the team has played for so long and given me a chance to get back.”

He was supposed to be out 12 weeks; it's been 16.

Playing in Game 3 against Penguins was where Spezza wanted to be. But it was tough to get there.

“Once you have back problems, they never really leave you,” he said. “My wife doesn't like when I have to sit on the floor and stretch instead of sitting on the couch with her. I wouldn't wish back pain on my worst enemy.”

Tim Baines is a freelance writer.

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