Spezza shipped to OHL Spitfires

The Mississauga IceDogs made good on a promise to trade disgruntled superstar Jason Spezza on Wednesday.

The IceDogs' top dog is now a member of the Windsor Spitfires.

Spezza, projected by many to be the top player available in next June's NHL Draft, requested a trade on Nov. 5.

"Most people would have probably placed us among the top eight teams in the OHL," said general manager Mike Kelly, whose Spitfires are currently ranked No. 9 in the Canadian Hockey League.

"Now it gets us into that contending category. From a wins-loss standpoint, it gives us a legitimate chance to move into the top four in the Ontario Hockey League."

Kelly expects a sellout when Spezza suits up against the Kitchener Rangers at Windsor Arena on Thursday.

"It's a special opportunity for our fans to see the premiere junior player in the world at this point in time," Kelly said.

En route from Windsor are Ryan Courtney, Tyler Eady, Mike James and Steve Rawski, plus second round and sixth round picks in the 2001 OHL Draft and $2,000 cash.

Mississauga will also receive Spezza's NHL developmental money, "which could be considerable if Spezza plays in the NHL next year," said IceDogs governor and general manager Trevor Whiffen.

The transaction is one of the biggest in OHL history, and given Spezza's stature, one frought with pressure.

"Pressure, yes, because it was important that we do a good deal, but I was confident all along we would conclude a good deal," Whiffen said.

"We've just added four guys who are roster players on a first-place OHL team with a winning tradition and a winning attitude, so I expect they will bring that winning attitude to the dressing room and on to the ice when they get here."

All four newcomers will debut for the IceDogs against the London Knights on Friday.

"Absolutely," Whiffen said.

Initially, the Sarnia Sting appeared to have won the Spezza sweepstakes on Tuesday, but nixed the trade when it withdrew a player at the last minute.

Spezza, 17, had seven goals and 23 assists in 15 games for the foundering IceDogs (2-15-2-0), but wanted out "for personal reasons."

One look at his wish list of six teams to be traded to -- Barrie Colts, Brampton Battalion, Erie Otters, Ottawa 67's, Sting and Spitfires -- and it was obvious that Spezza simply wanted to play for a winner.

Windsor currently sits third in the Western Conference with a record of 10-4-3-1.

"They were on my list of the original six teams," Spezza said of the Spitfires. "And then they were on a short list of about three teams later on."

Spezza entered the OHL as a 15-year-old in 1998 and led the Battalion in scoring with 22 goals and 49 assists.

The only reason he qualified to play as an underage rookie was because he lived in Brampton.

Spezza then entered the 1999 draft and was selected first overall by Mississauga.

Though the IceDogs limped to a 9-58-1-2 record, the six-foot-three, 190-pound centre impressed with 24 goals and 37 assists in 52 games.

He also played for Canada's junior team.

Courtney is an 18-year-old drafted by the Buffalo Sabres with three goals and seven assists in 14 games for the Spitfires.

As for James, an 18-year-old left winger, he had three goals and three assists in 14 games.

Rawski, 18, had one goal and eight assists in 17 games, while Eady, 17, earned five assists in 15 games on right wing.

"We got an extra roster player and we got players in positions we needed them in," Whiffen said. "We needed help on the left side and we got a defenceman Steve Rawski who can step right in and be one of our top defenceman."

The IceDogs now also have nine picks in the first six rounds of next summer's draft.