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Toronto Maple Leafs forward Jason Spezza had his six-game suspension reduced to four games by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Friday.

Spezza was suspended on Dec. 7, two days after kneeing Winnipeg Jets defenceman Neal Pionk in Toronto’s 6-3 loss. He already has sat out four games and is eligible to return for the Maple Leafs on Saturday when they visit the Vancouver Canucks.

The discipline came after an in-person hearing (over Zoom) for Spezza after a spate of incidents in the Maple Leafs-Jets game. Pionk received a two-game suspension for a knee-to-knee hit on Maple Leafs defenceman Rasmus Sandin during the third period of that game.

Less than two minutes after that hit, Pionk – who had lost his stick – dove to the ice to make a play for the puck. Spezza skated over and lowered his left knee to make forceful contact with the side of Pionk’s head.

Spezza, 38, has recorded 11 points (seven goals, four assists) in 26 games this season.

He has 981 points (358 goals, 623 assists) in 1,203 career games with the Ottawa Senators, Dallas Stars and Maple Leafs. He was selected by the Senators with the second overall of the 2001 NHL Draft.


Alberta’s world junior hockey championship still going ahead with fans in arenas

There are no plans yet to limit spectators at the world junior men’s hockey championship in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta.

Ontario cut capacity at sports venues to 50 per cent and the Montreal Canadiens played in an empty Bell Centre on Thursday in an effort slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The 10-country men’s world under-20 championship opens Dec. 26 in Alberta.

“We speak daily with the province, with Alberta Health and with Alberta Health Services,” said Dean McIntosh, Hockey Canada’s vice-president of events, on Friday.

“They’re monitoring closely what’s going on in other provinces. We’ve had conversations around what that could look like, but at this point, nothing more than that.”

“There’s no plan right now to limit fans. We continue to move forward with the plan for full buildings.”

The 2021 world junior championship in Edmonton was held minus fans in Rogers Place because of the pandemic.

Slightly over 90 per cent of tickets for the 2022 tournament have been sold, McIntosh said.

Hockey Canada is prepared if Alberta’s government suddenly demands a curtailing of attendance.

“It’s always part of our contingency planning,” McIntosh said.

“The challenge is obviously knowing what that contingency might look like knowing you’ve got everything ranging from what the Montreal Canadiens did in Montreal to an empty building, to half-capacity in Ontario, to other derivations in between.

“All we can do is take direction, I think is our challenge.”

The teams arrived in Canada this week and were in quarantine Friday.

Players and staff were required to produce two negative tests before departing for Canada and have been tested every day since their arrival, McIntosh said.

Those who test negative are cleared to get on the ice Saturday.

Pretournament games are scheduled to start Sunday, including Canada versus Switzerland in Red Deer.

The Canadian Press