OTTAWA - Jason Spezza isn't quite sure what to expect when he steps on the ice at Canadian Tire Centre for the first time as a visitor.
Spezza, who spent 11 seasons of his career with the Senators, returns to Ottawa on Thursday as a member of the Dallas Stars. The 31-year-old requested a trade at the conclusion of last season and was eventually dealt to Dallas on July 1 in exchange for Alex Chiasson, Nick Paul, Alex Guptill and a second-round draft pick.
"It's obviously different coming in as a visiting team and it's nice to see some familiar faces and people that I spent a lot of time with," Spezza said. "Felt good to be back on the ice and it's a date that's been circled on my calendar so it's nice to kind of have it here and get it over with (Thursday)."
Coming in a day early gave Spezza the opportunity to catch up with a number of friends at the arena before focusing on Thursday's game.
Spezza plans on keeping things as close to routine as possible, but knows emotions will likely be heightened when he hears the fans' reaction during warm-ups.
"Fans are passionate so I hope that I'm remembered as giving my all and having success here," Spezza said. "I expect them to support the team too. They've always supported the club, but hopefully they appreciate I gave everything when I was here and tried to do all I could to help us win."
Spezza says he will always look back at his time in Ottawa with fondness — for the most part.
"I think it was mostly positive, but no doubt there were frustrating times," Spezza said with a laugh. "There were times, many times, I left this rink shaking my head and wondering why we can't get over the hump or what we're doing wrong. Looking back there's probably a little regret that we didn't win. I think we were so close for a three, four-year period there where we had as good a team as anyone in the league."
Spezza's final year with the Senators was his only one as captain.
"I'm disappointed I was only captain for a year and then asked for a trade to move on," Spezza said. "It's unfortunate the timing, the way it was. It was a tough decision to ask to be moved because I was captain and because that was a proud moment for me to be named captain and I always wanted to become a leader.
"I take the game very seriously and I respect those things. I respect the order of command in the dressing room and I knew the impact it would have, but I think the guys in the room understood that it was time. But it is disappointing that you had to leave on that kind of note after one year as captain."
Unlike when Daniel Alfredsson chose to sign with the Detroit Red Wings as a free agent in 2013, there was no little outrage at Spezza's request. If anything many felt it was the right time for the two sides to part ways.
Spezza's younger brother and his parents will be on hand for the game.
During his time in Ottawa, Spezza was often hailed as a hero or maligned as the root of all that was wrong with the Senators. Despite being a point-per-game player, Spezza never seemed to be able to earn the undying support of the Senators faithful.
While Spezza may be unsure about his return, his former teammates believe he deserves nothing less than a warm reception.
"With regards to (Spezza) we have all the respect in the world for him, I know I do," said Ottawa defenceman Marc Methot. "He was a heck of a teammate to have here. Fan reaction, you can never really predict that, but as far as I'm concerned I believe it should be positive.
"He's contributed so much to this organization on and off the ice that he deserves that respect. If it were up to me and I was watching the game I would certainly be giving him a lot of positive vibes."
Forward Bobby Ryan expects Spezza will experience a range of emotions, but overall believes the game will be a positive one for all involved.
"It will likely be emotional for him and the guys that were with him for a long time," Ryan said. "Outside of that I think he'll get a video, which is well deserving of what he did here for the community and the organization, but after that I think they'll cheer for us and boo him like they did (Alfredsson) and I'm sure he expects that."
Notes: Colin Greening cleared waivers and is expected to join the Binghamton Senators. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson announced Wednesday that Daniel Alfredsson would be given the key to the city on March 5.