Fans finally have tradition to call their own
But did Alfie Countdown survive the lockout?
The first time Daniel Alfredsson heard the chant last spring, he had no idea that his hometown fans were serenading him.
The Senators captain had just finished addressing the media after a 2-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at Scotiabank Place on April 3. After the scrum around him dispersed, Alfredsson was pulled aside and asked about what he heard at the 11-minute mark of each period that night.
The crowd had just debuted the Alfie Countdown, organized through a grassroots social media movement and word of mouth. When the game clock reached 11:11 of each period, the fans counted down to the 11-minute mark and started chanting, “Alfie! Alfie! Alfie!”
Alfredsson admitted he couldn’t make out what the crowd was saying that night. To him, the shouting sounded muffled and incoherent. He thought the chanting had been the work of disgruntled Quebec City hockey fans, who staged a similar choreographed action a few weeks earlier. When he was told that the chanting was actually done in his honour, he simply said, “I’ll have to pay attention to that next time.”
The next time it happened was during the Senators’ regular season finale at Scotiabank Place two days later. And that night, there was no mistaking the Alfie Countdown for anything else. The crowd was so into it by the third period, that the game on the ice become secondary to the watching the clock countdown from the 11:11 mark.
The tipping point for the chant came during the Senators’ first round playoff matchup with the New York Rangers. Alfredsson admitted to being stunned when he heard the “Alfie! Alfie!” chant from a group of Senators fans inside Madison Square Garden during Game 1 of the series. Those fans were quickly drowned out by the boisterous Rangers’ fans around them, but make no mistake about it: The Alfie Countdown had officially arrived.
Even when Alfredsson didn’t suit up for Games 3 and 4 of that series because of a concussion, the countdown chant continued in his absence at Scotiabank Place. And it finally seemed that Ottawa fans had something to call their own.
For years, Senators fans had been best known for leaving Scotiabank Place early in the third period in order to beat the traffic out of the parking lot on a cold night.
Other sports venues had unique traditions, but Ottawa always seemed like a dull place to watch a hockey game. At Yankee Stadium, the roll call for the starting lineup from the right field bleachers in the first inning has become legendary.
At Joe Louis Arena, the tossing of octopus on the ice is a ritual synonymous with Red Wings playoff games. In Philadelphia, the home crowd chants “sucks!” in unison when the visiting starting lineup is announced before Flyers games.
In Winnipeg, fans shout “True North” during the national anthem, a nod to the group that brought the NHL back to town.
But for the first 20 years of their existence — with apologies to Jon E. Shakka and Spartacat’s hotdog blaster — the Senators lacked any traditions that had the potential for staying power.
That is, until the Alfie Countdown appeared last spring.
On Monday night at Scotiabank Place, the Senators will play host to their first home game in almost nine months. In April, the Alfie Countdown was anticipated on a nightly basis. But now, one has to wonder if the NHL lockout has killed the momentum of Ottawa’s newest sports tradition. Will fans remember to start the countdown at the 11:11 mark of the first period of Monday night?
Earlier this week, I had a chance to ask Alfredsson about what it’s like to be in the middle of this unique ritual.
“It’s obviously neat. It’s great to feel like the fans respect me for what I’ve done here — and obviously, the feeling is mutual,” he said, adding that he wasn’t sure if the tradition would continue.
The 40-year-old captain also admitted that each time he is serenaded by the home crowd, it’s hard for him to acknowledge the moment because he’s in the middle of the game. It’s impossible to raise your stick in appreciation when you’re on the ice during play.
“It’s still a little bit awkward,” Alfredsson said with a smile. “You’re in the game and thinking, ‘Do I really deserve this?’”
On Monday night, we will find out if Ottawa fans believe Alfredsson deserves the chant again this season. The smart money says the Alfie Countdown will be resurrected this year, even if it takes a few games to work out the rust.
There are some who even predict this Alfie Countdown will continue at Scotiabank Place well after the captain retires. Before you think that’s a crazy notion, remember they still yell “Potvin Sucks!” at Madison Square Garden, even though it’s been almost 30 years since a certain Islanders defenceman played a game there.
Ottawa just might have a tradition that lasts a generation as well.
Ian Mendes covers a variety of sports — including Ottawa Senators hockey — for Rogers Sportsnet. He is co-author of the book The Best Seat In The House with Jamie McLennan.
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