Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Everybody loves Alfie!

He's been the face of the franchise ever since Alexi Yashin sat out a season in the capital and began to pack for the suburbs of New York.

With his series winning goal on Saturday afternoon captain Daniel Alfredsson launched himself into the legions of Senators fame alongside the likes of Cyclone Taylor, Eddie Gerard, Frank Finnigan, Hector Kilrae and King Clancy, all who toiled for the Sens in the early days.

Numerous books and magazine articles have been written over the years about their ancient exploits and with his dogged determination in this years playoff rounds, combined with Saturday's goal propelling the new era Sens into the Stanley Cup final, we suspect that there will be a few more chapters to add now featuring Alfredsson's contributions when the day comes to remember the Senator greats.

Just what is it that has made Alfredsson the kind of leader that has helped to banish the ghosts of playoff disappointments past?

Alfredsson set his team, Ottawa on fire
From Monday's Globe and Mail

OTTAWA — It was late December and Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson had far more on his mind than the looming Christmas season. His National Hockey League team was beset by injuries and underperforming, wallowing under .500.

Mr. Alfredsson, the last remaining Senator from a team that finished dead last in the NHL during the 1995-96 season and the face of a franchise that seemed to perpetually fail to live up to its promise, knew better than most what was at stake. A quick turnaround had to happen -- that or big changes were certain to follow.

And so, with 10 of 13 games looming on home ice and with his team at a critical juncture of the season, Mr. Alfredsson quietly convened a dinner meeting at an Ottawa restaurant, bringing with him with three veteran teammates: Dany Heatley, Wade Redden and Chris Phillips.
"He told them: 'We all live here and we like it here,' " Senators president Roy Mlakar said. " 'If we want to stay here we've got to be the guys.' "
Ottawa won 10 times in the 13 games that followed that dinner meeting. Since then, the team has not lost two games in a row, including winning 12 of 15 during the playoffs.

Today, with the Senators headed to the Stanley Cup final for the first time in the NHL's modern era, it's safe to say his teammates bought in. And it's certainly fitting that it was Mr. Alfredsson who scored the goal in overtime Saturday afternoon that eliminated the Sabres and gave the Senators a 4-1 victory in the Eastern Conference final series.

"It's the biggest goal I've ever scored, no question," he said on Saturday. "We're very fortunate to be in this position and we've worked really hard for this."

When Mr. Alfredsson scored, the usually sedate city of Ottawa spontaneously combusted.
Elgin Street, a popular stretch of bars and restaurants in the city's downtown, was closed to accommodate the thousands seeking to celebrate. An impromptu party even broke out on Parliament Hill.

It's hard to imagine that, just a year earlier, Mr. Alfredsson had been branded the goat when Buffalo's Jason Pominville skated around him en route to scoring the overtime goal that ended Ottawa's once-promising season.

Coincidentally, in what seemed like poetic justice, Mr. Pominville was one of five Sabres on the ice Saturday when Mr. Alfredsson scored the goal that sent the city into celebration.
"[The ending to Saturday's game] was perfect," Mr. Phillips said.

"He's gone through a lot of ups and downs and then to score the biggest goal in team history is very fitting. We're really excited with what we've achieved as a team, but for him personally, we're just so happy and proud for him. He's everything there is in a leader."

"He took a lot of heat for last year - wrongfully," Mr. Phillips said. "But he had the character and leadership to put that aside and prove what he's capable of doing."

No one has ever questioned Mr. Alfredsson's skill as a hockey player. But each year when Ottawa's Stanley Cup dream ended prematurely, his character and ability to lead his team would be called into question by disappointed fans. Never far from the criticism was the fact that no European captain has ever led a team to the Stanley Cup.

Yet Mr. Alfredsson, who came to the Senators from Sweden as an unheralded rookie in 1995, never lost his desire to remain in Ottawa. Even in the franchise's dark days, when other good players were looking for a way out of town, Mr. Alfredsson never did.

"In the summer when you have tough workouts, that's what makes you go through them - your dreams and what you would do if you would have the Cup for a day," he said. "That would never go away."

While he did not ascend to the captaincy until former captain Alexei Yashin sat out the 1999-00 season in a contract holdout, there were signs early in his career that Mr. Alfredsson shared a special relationship with his adopted home.

In the spring of 1997, the Senators clinched their first playoff berth with a win on home ice over the Hartford Whalers. When the game was over, Mr. Alfredsson, then just in his second NHL season, suggested the players skate around the ice with their sticks raised in the air as a tribute to fans who'd lived through four consecutive last-place finishes since the team's inception.

Today, he is married and has a young son who was born in Ottawa. He talks often about making Ottawa his permanent home when he retires, raising his family in a place he's always believed in, even if its hockey fans haven't always believed in him.

"The support for us has been a big part of our success and the reason why there's still a team in Ottawa," Mr. Alfredsson said. "Having a family now, as well, it's a great city for a family. But the biggest thing for me, coming to the rink and the support we get and the knowledge [the fans] have, it does make this job pretty special."

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