Jason Spezza knows a few things about putting the puck in the net. Last season, the Ottawa Senators center scored 34 goals, as well as racked up 53 assists and 87 points, making him the second most prolific offenseman on the team behind Dany Heatley. This year, Spezz matches an honor that Heatley managed in 2003: landing on the cover of a hockey video game, in this case, NHL 2K8. We recently had a chance to chat with Spezz over the phone to talk about his thoughts on the game, the hardest hit he ever took in his career, and...his baby modeling career?
GameSpot: Let's start with your thoughts on being on the game. You're the first Ottawa Senators player on the cover of a hockey video game. That must feel pretty special.
Jason Spezza: Yeah, definitely. I was pretty excited. It's obviously pretty cool just, you know, growing up, playing the game. You know, to be in it is always cool. And now, to be on the cover is even cooler.
GS: As a player, have you always been partial to hockey video games? Where do you fall in terms of what you play in your free time?
JS: Yeah. Well, you know, I played a lot of the hockey games... a little more when I was younger. Now we play every once in a while too. I've always liked soccer [and] golf. I've always liked the sports games. And then, you know, like, every once in a while, a first-person shooter game will come out, and I'll like that too.
GS: Do you have a lot of free time to play? Or what do you do in your off time?
JS: Yeah. You know, during the season, sometimes it's good because you want to sit down and relax and just kind of hang out on the couch. And playing video games is a good way to do that. So our schedules are busy, but when we're at home, we have a little bit of time just to kind of relax.
GS: If you had a 2K8 tournament, who on the team would take part? Who would win? And who would probably come in last place?
JS: Oh, I would win.
GS: I like that. That's a good start.
JS: Brian McGrattan is probably my biggest video game buddy, I guess. Me, him, and Ray Emery lived together, so we played quite a bit when we lived together. Now we've all got our own places, so it's a little tougher to play. But I haven't exactly mastered the online aspect of it yet. So I don't know, yeah, perhaps Razor would play. I don't know who else. Christoph Schubert and Andrej Meszaros are two younger guys that play a lot of video games too. So I don't know. We have a pretty young team.
GS: Yeah, that always helps. Do you play a lot online? Do you play with strangers?
JS: No. You know what? Not really. I did a few years ago. My brother set it up for me, but then I moved houses, so I haven't gotten it set up since then. And I think we're going to try to get it hooked up because that's a real fun thing to do. So I think I'd look forward to getting a chance to play online.
GS: When you play a video game, do you always play as Ottawa? Or what teams do you like to control?
JS: Yeah, no, I always play as Ottawa. When I was younger, I would play with different teams. But now if I play, I usually like playing with Ottawa because if you're playing with someone else, you don't really want to win.
GS: Was Ottawa your team growing up?
JS: No, I was a Leaf fan growing up... growing up in Toronto. So it's been a pretty quick switch for me.
GS: We asked for questions for you from our readers. And someone asked if you were going to control Toronto. That reader must have known something about you.
JS: No, I'm strictly Ottawa when I play the game. Or the All-Star teams if I'm playing someone that's better than me.
GS: I want to talk a little bit about your NHL career as well. Was there a watershed moment when you said, "You know, the NHL looks like a possibility for me." And what was that moment?
JS: You know, I think, when I was, like, 14 or 15 and started playing junior. I think that's when I really realized that "Hey, you know, I could probably do this for a long time and make a living doing it." And then you always dream about playing in the NHL, and to actually get that opportunity is pretty cool. And I remember, you know, the first couple times that I played against Mario Lemieux or some of these other...you know, the guys that I'd kind of grown up watching... Steve Yzerman. It was pretty special for me to play those guys.
GS: I've read other interviews with you where you had said that Mario was one of your heroes. What was that like playing against one of the guys you looked up to?
JS: Yeah, it was, you know... it was pretty exciting. He's definitely probably the biggest awe factor I've had playing against anyone. So, you know, it was pretty cool. And just growing up, you know, idolizing the guy and then facing off against him is obviously, you know, something that's pretty special.
GS: It must have been a thrill. When you first came up with Ottawa, I think you played 30 or so games in your first season. What was it like playing with the team, trying to attain a permanent spot on the roster?
JS: It's a bit of a grind when you're starting out and, you know, you want to try and impress [the team]. But, you know, for me, my big thing is I really didn't want to change too much. I didn't want to become a guy that, you know, was an offensive guy in junior and turned into a checker in the NHL because maybe it's a little easier to play that role. So I had to kind of stick with my offensive instincts and go through some hardships and play in the minors for a little bit. But I think in the long run it served me better.
GS: If someone is playing 2K8 with the Senators, how would you advise him or her to play with the team?
JS: Well, we're a pretty run-and-gun team, and we've got some pretty big defensemen that can throw their weight around. So I'd probably have [Anton] Volchenkov on the back end, stepping up and hitting guys, and either [Wade] Redden or [Chris] Phillips playing with him. If it was an offensive situation, you'd probably want Redden playing with him. And up front, me, [Dany Heatly], and Alfie [Daniel Alfredsson]; we're pretty good with the puck. So I'd probably have us on and just kind of run and gun and try and get us the puck, I guess.
GS: Signature moves are becoming a bigger part of today's sports video games, and I'm wondering if you have something you consider a "signature" move: a "Jason Spezza Special" in other words.
JS: Well, I don't know if I have a signature move that only I do. I'm pretty basic when I play and when I'm coming at a goalie. I'm more of a shooter on breakaways and stuff. But the game... it really, you know, simulated guys putting the puck through the legs or pulling to your backhand and going up top. I was pleasantly pleased by the graphics and how realistic it was.
GS: What do you feel sets you apart from other players at your position?
JS: Well, I think one of my strengths is probably my playmaking ability. Just kind of being able to slow the tempo of the game down and kind of see who's open and see who's around... kind of analyzing what's going on. So that's something. My hockey sense is always something that I've prided myself on and worked on when I was younger.
GS: Who's the hardest hitter in the NHL? Do you remember the hardest hit you've ever taken?
JS: The hardest hitter in the NHL now is... it might sound a little prejudiced, but I'm going to say Anton Volchenkov. I don't know if there are many guys that are as thick as him and that can time it as well to step up and hit guys. Because he's on my team, I'm obviously going to say it. But I think there are other guys in the league that would echo it. Hardest hit I've ever taken? It was one of my first exhibition games in junior. Adam Mair was playing in Owen Sound and he caught me coming through the middle. And I still remember the hit, so I think that was a pretty big one.
GS: You always hear with football players that no matter how hard they're hit, they immediately get back up just to show the guy that it didn't phase them. Is that the same in hockey?
JS: Yeah, exactly.
GS: How hard is that to do?
JS: Well, sometimes when you get hit, the hit looks bigger than it is. But there are other times when it doesn't look like it's that bad and you get winded. And that's when you've really got to kind of muster up your energy to get up. But yeah, we're definitely taught not to stay down. And if you stay down, you're definitely hurt.
GS: I know you've probably been asked this before, but I have to ask you about your baby modeling career. How did that come about? And what do you remember from your baby modeling career?
JS: Well, it came about when I just turned one. I guess there was a musical in town, and they had a baby contest. And my mom took the day off work and brought me to this baby contest. And I won the baby contest. I don't remember that too much. Once I won the baby contest, I think I got set up with an agency. And then probably up until I was, like, 10 years old maybe, I would do, like, little magazine shots. Kind of like the picturesque family with the, you know, two-and-a-half kids and the father and mother and the dog. It was just [for] flyers and stuff. And then I did a commercial for Minute Maid. So I kind of remember a few of the things, but my recollection of it isn't great.
GS: You must have started playing hockey pretty young. Was there overlap between your modeling career and the beginning of your hockey career?
JS: Yeah. But when you're a kid, I don't think you consider it a hockey career. You know, when I was playing minor hockey, I was doing some stuff. I [would just] go take pictures for a couple hours, and that was it.
GS: So what made you stop? Did you just want to get into hockey and focus on that?
JS: Yeah, I just kind of got bored of it, I think. When I hit, like, 10 or 11 years old, I told my parents I didn't want to do it anymore. They didn't really care. Plus, you get older... you don't want to be known as the guy that plays hockey and does photo shoots or something like that... feeling a little insecure about it probably as you're a kid too.
GS: Best to probably leave that behind and get on the ice, right?
JS: Exactly. Now I'm slowly bringing it back, I guess. I did [the NHL 2K8] commercial shoot, and it was pretty cool. I don't remember it being [this] fancy… [compared to] the one I did when I was a kid. It was a pretty good ordeal...that whole day. The commercial went pretty well. It was a full day. They had [Dallas Stars goalie] Marty Turco there with me. You know, a million people working the site and making sure every angle was right and all the lighting was good. It was a pretty fun day.
GS: That's when all that baby modeling experience comes to good use.
JS: That's it. My past life helped me out.
GS: That's right. Did you have a chance to play against Marty? That guy's a beast on 2K.
JS: No, I didn't have a chance to play. But I can take Turco, I think.
GS: He came to our office a few years ago and wiped the floor with everybody. It was amazing.
JS: Oh, yeah?
GS: He's a freak. Jason, we appreciate your time. This was fun.
JS: No problem. Thanks a lot.