Daniel Alfredsson the You Can Play project to promote respect for all athletes, regardless of sexual orientation.
Photograph by: Fred Chartrand, Canadian Press, Canada.com
OTTAWA — Only hours more to wait, for the Dec. 1 hockey date that’s long been circled in red.
That makes this — Alfie Eve! It’s a wonder no one distributed an Alfredsson Advent Calendar in November so we could count down the days in chocolate. The Red Wings are coming at last, and while Senators fans complain that their team’s fluctuating performance from game to game this season is impossible to forecast, can we predict this much?
When Daniel Alfredsson returns to the Canadian Tire Centre on Sunday for the first time in an enemy uniform, Ottawa fans will rise up to give their former captain the thunderous ovation he deserves after 18 years of exemplary service in the Nation’s capital and 14 years as Senators captain. The man played a club-leading 1,178 regular season games in a Senators uniform, plus playoffs, and produced 1,108 points.
Clearly, enough time has passed for wounds to heal since Alfredsson left as a free agent for the Detroit Red Wings on July 5. Olive branch extended, the Senators have announced there will be a video tribute for Alfredsson, prior to the 5:30 p.m. start. They have asked fans to get to their seats early.
Just as quickly, they will be out of those seats. In a salute that ought to be universal. Resolute. Producing chills.
Assistant captain Chris Phillips, a Senators defenceman since 1997, has no doubt Ottawa fans will do the right thing by Alfredsson.
“I expect a standing ovation, I think people will be on their feet,” Phillips said. “I think he should be applauded and commended for everything he’s done for this team during his time here — on and off the ice.”
Alfredsson himself is not sure, except in his heart. Last Saturday, when the Senators were in Detroit, Alfie told a small group of Ottawa reporters his return to Ottawa has “been on my mind” for some time.
He has “a feeling” the response will be positive.
“But you don’t know,” Alfredsson said. “And even if I felt that, I don’t know if I would say it anyway.
“It’s so hard, I don’t know. I think it will be good. It’s a situation where, I was there for so long, but then at the same time I now play for another team. There’s a conflict, there’s no question. How that will play out, I don’t know.”
The class of Senators fans will shine through, even those who were heartbroken when Alfredsson, 40, declared he was seeking a new hockey experience in the twilight of his career — and possibly a chance to win a Stanley Cup, with Detroit.
These days, neither the Senators nor Red Wings looks like championship material, but Alfredsson’s departure would not have happened had the organization been willing to extend his contract before he entered his final season. No deal was reached, in the summers of 2012 or 2013, so No. 11 packed up his wife and four boys and left for the Motor City, exercising his right as a free agent by signing a one-year deal. Five months later, everyone — from Ottawa franchise owner Eugene Melnyk to the most casual of fan — seems to be in a better place about the transaction.
“I don’t know if there’s such thing as a good breakup,” Phillips says, “but everything that went on was frustrating for everyone involved. And now’s an opportunity to put all that stuff behind, and for him to be rewarded with thankfulness for all he’s done.”
As though scripted, the weekend plays out perfectly for Alfredsson. With school out for Thanksgiving, Bibi and the boys — Hugo, Loui, Fenix and William — have had time for a proper visit with family and friends in Ottawa. The Red Wings were scheduled to arrive Friday evening. They will skate here Saturday, enabling Alfredsson to get the media blitz over and done. Owing to the 5:30 game start, there will be no morning skate Sunday.
“There’s going to be a lot of emotions going through my head,” he says. “So, deal with that the day before and I think it will be easier to focus on the game on Sunday.”
What does Alfredsson miss the most about Ottawa?
If you think it’s the November snow, and occasionally riding a snowmobile to hockey practice, think again.
“The biggest thing is friends, and people you got to know through the time (there),” Alfredsson says.
Believe it or not, life in suburban Detroit is not all that different for the Alfredssons than suburban Kanata. They remain parental chauffeurs — driving the boys to school, to recreation or to play dates.
Hugo, 10, plays in the famous Little Caesar’s hockey organization and has already had tournaments in Pittsburgh and Chicago this season. Daniel’s brother, Henric, came down from Ottawa to take Hugo to both tourneys as the Red Wings were on the road.
They’re on the road again. Arriving here from a Friday-afternoon game on Long Island, against the Islanders. Then, Sunday’s all-red showdown at the CTC.
“The fans are going to react the way they feel is appropriate,” Alfredsson says.
The same fans who once thought Alfredsson could walk on the Rideau Canal — BEFORE it freezes.
This time, Alfredsson will suit up in the cramped quarters of the visitors’ dressing room, a place he hasn’t been since the Senators training camp split squads. Years ago.
“It’s going to be different,” Alfie says, of his first time back, wearing the winged wheel of the Red Wings.
Different for all of us.
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