Thursday, December 4, 2014

Alfredsson -- long-time captain retires from Ottawa

By Larry Wigge

Today, they are honoring the career of Daniel Alfredsson as the captain of the Ottawa Senators.

Oh, it's an afterthought. An oversight.

Whatever happens when feelings are a little hurt like they were when the Gothenburg, Sweden, native took his sticks and style to the Detroit Red Wings after 17 seasons with Ottawa in a rift.

A r-i-f-t . . . something between friends that never, ever should happen.

All Alfredsson wanted was one last chance at a Stanley Cup.

After that one season with Detroit, Alfredsson dealt with that, deciding to retire after 1,246 NHL games, which included 444 goals, 713 points, 1,157 points. Forty-three goals in 2005-06 and 40 goals in 2007-08 represented the high points for a player who had been selected 133rd overall in the fourth round of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft.

"I don't fear retirement at all," Alfredsson said. "Talking to a lot of people, if you retire too early ... you look back and say, 'Maybe I should have played another year or two.' "

The right winger had served as the captain of the Sens since 1999. That is a sizable amount of time. Maybe, in retrospect, then-Senators GM John Muckler wasn't as daft, when he said before the Cup finals that he thought Alfredsson's leadership was the equal of Mark Messier, who won five Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers and a sixth with the New York Rangers.

"I've coached some good leaders in the NHL," Muckler said. "We all know what a great leader Mark Messier was. And Daniel Alfredsson is leading this hockey club on a par with Mark."

Alfredsson was marvelous. He was unselfish. He was unassuming in his years in Ottawa ... as captain of the Sens since 1999.

Maybe I should have seen it, when I interviewed Alfredsson prior to Game 2 of the 2006 of the 2007 Cup finals against the Anaheim Might Ducks, a series that was won by Anaheim in five games.

There was something percolating inside when Alfredsson tried to describe his love for the Senators in mid-July, when he his 14 goals to lead the NHL in the playoffs.

You might not see that love with the naked eye. You would probably call it a mental toughness. Backbone. Grit. Heart. Moxie. An intestinal fortitude that is hard to describe.

But, then, that was the Daniel Alfredsson.

After all, Alfredsson had beaten the odds before.

As a youngster, his skating wasn't the prettiest. In fact, Hasse, his dad and coach, thought soccer was Daniel's best sport. But the kid wanted to play hockey and worked and worked at his skating until ...

"I got my big break when I was 17 and I went to try out to play in the Swedish Elite League with Frolunda," he said, recalling how he once was a plodding defenseman in Gothenburg. "One of their best forwards disliked flying, so they invited me to travel with the team. That was my chance ... and I scored two goals."

Ironically, that change of position also brought out the best of Alfredsson’s passion and grit for the game.

"I'll never forget Mark Messier elbowing him in a game during the lockout in 1994," Muckler recalled. "And Alfie went right back at Mark, throwing an elbow of his own at Mess."

It was only because of a hunch by John Ferguson, then-Senators director of player personnel, that the team used a fourth-round pick, 133rd overall, in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft. The team raved about the selection of Radek Bonk with the third pick overall and others in that draft class, but Alfredsson has far outplayed them through the 17 seasons that have past since that day.

"He's always been competitive," said former Senators defenseman Wade Redden. "In golf, cards, whatever. He plays everything hard and straight. In cribbage, he counts every point."

When the veteran winger heard his teammates talk about his competitive nature, he just laughs and say it's all because his dad wouldn't let him win when they played cards.  

"It teed me off that I couldn't beat him," said Alfredsson, laughing. "I could never get over how frustrated I was at losing every single time. I still don't like losing ... at anything."

Hard work. Drive. Passion. The will to win. That's what you with Daniel Alfredsson.

"He deserves every little bit of praise he's getting now," said center Jason Spezza, recently signed with Dallas. "He's our leader, he's been phenomenal. When he was criticized in the past, it upset us all."

"He's got a great personality," Muckler said. "He handles crisis on an even keel -- never gets too high, never gets too low. He's demanding of his teammates as well as he's demanding of himself. He sticks up for his teammates. That's everything you want in a leader."

And those around him say he’s playing with more of an edge than ever, that when he gets pushed he pushes back.

"I think that's what's made out whole team push back," Muckler said of the 5-11, 208-pound winger. "One of the things that was lacking in past years, was team toughness. Now we have that. We're still not an overly big team, but we're willing to compete ... and I credit a lot of that to Alfie."

When Daniel Alfredsson was a kid who just turned in his soccer jersey, he also changed his fallback profession of wanting to be a carpenter because he couldn't work it into his schedule around hockey. He switched his schoolwork favorite to economics. And there was no hockey at the Alfredsson household until his homework was done.

That was the rule set forth by Hasse and Margareta Alfredsson. Even for the oldest of the Alfredsson’s four boys.

There were never many frills for the Alfredsson boys, but they always had what they needed if they wanted to play hockey. Hasse was a hard-working head of the household. Everyone looked at life with compassion in his eyes, watching Margareta wage a daily battle with multiple sclerosis.

"We had our friends like any other kids growing up," Daniel recalled fondly. "We'd swim, play handball and hockey and soccer and ride our bikes just like the rest of the kids.

"It was never my dream to play in the NHL. All the focus I had on hockey back then was on the Swedish league, the national team, the world championship. I mean, I was drafted so low it wasn't like Ottawa was calling me every day or week or month to come over here."

He was drafted at 18, but didn’t even consider the NHL until he was 21 -- and even then he came to North America thinking his visit would be brief.

"Even if I made the team, I figured three or four years and I'll be done and go back to Sweden," Alfredsson laughed. "Funny how things work out, eh?"

Lo and behold, Alfredsson had an assist in his first NHL game and netted his first goal a couple of games later. He was named Rookie of the Year in 1995-96, leading the Senators in goals (26), assists (35) and points (61) -- the only rookie to lead his team in scoring that season.

A quiet guy, Daniel never takes anything on the ice for granted. And that's what makes him such a popular captain. He leads by example, something he credits his dad and mom with.

"My dad always had a great work ethic whatever he did," Alfredsson said proudly. "And my stubbornness and willpower definitely comes from what my mom has gone through."

The ultra-competitive Daniel Alfredsson led the Senators the right way.

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