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Feisty Alfredsson embodies the meaning of captain

Thursday, 04.09.2009 / 9:00 AM / Player Profiles

By Larry Wigge - NHL.com Columnist

"Canadian teams take that honor very seriously and I'm sure the Senators thought long and hard at first about giving that title to a guy from Sweden. But with Daniel not only is he a great player, but he's a stand-up guy."
-- Blues goalie Chris Mason

Former Ottawa Senators GM John Muckler once told me a little story about the competitive and feisty nature of captain Daniel Alfredsson that explains a lot about the 5-foot-11, 208-pounder who was considered a risk when the Senators chose him with the 133rd pick in the 1994 Entry Draft.

Said Muckler, "I'll never forget Mark Messier elbowing him in a game during the lockout in 1994. And Alfie went right back at Mark, throwing an elbow of his own at Mess. I've coached some good leaders in the NHL. We all know what a great leader Mark Messier was. And Daniel Alfredsson is leading this hockey club on a par with Mark."

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

"When I think about being captain, I look at it as a responsibility I have to be sort of the face of the franchise to the fans and a link between the players and the coaching staff," Alfredsson said. "It's an honor I take very seriously."

"Canadian teams take that honor very seriously and I'm sure the Senators thought long and hard at first about giving that title to a guy from Sweden," said St. Louis Blues goaltender Chris Mason. "But with Daniel not only is he a great player, but he's a stand-up guy.

"All you have to do is watch that team for a few moments to see who their leader is. Alfredsson's got that aura about him."

"Alfie is exactly the kind of person you'd want your kid to grow up to be," said Ottawa center Jason Spezza. "There was a time when he was criticized for not showing leadership to those who aren't on the ice or in the locker room with him. That criticism hurt us all, because we knew it wasn't true."

Alfredsson took the job as captain of the Senators prior to the 1999-2000 season. He had never been a captain before ... anywhere. He admits he thought about what he'd have to do to be a good captain. But he didn't look around at Messier or Scott Stevens or Steve Yzerman, the captains most players singled out in those days.

"I remember Randy Cunneyworth," Alfredsson explained. "He was Ottawa's captain when I came into the NHL. He came to the rink prepared. He was passionate and he always showed up when it counted ... and he worked hard. To me, that's the biggest part of the job. You've got to be yourself -- and I think my teammates see that I am who I am. If I can look myself in the mirror at the end of the day and say, 'Good job,' then I'm satisfied with the job I've done."

And being a stand-up person, a person of his word is always important to teammates -- like ...

"You should have seen him out there on the ice at practice yesterday," teammate Shean Donovan said, laughing at an inside joke.

It turns out that Alfredsson put his faith in Sweden in the gold-medal game at the World Junior tournament in Ottawa against Canada.

"He was on the ice at practice wearing Canada's red and white Maple Leaf across his Swedish chest," Donovan continued, referring to a wager he had with Senators Owner Eugene Melnyk. "And a week ago, he came over to my house and I had him shoveling snow. He did a pretty good job on our outdoor rink. He didn't just do it because he's a nice guy. He did it because he's a stand-up guy."

Loyal and passionate about Sweden, but also the kind of leader who knew the right time to kick up a fuss when things needed to be addressed in preparation for the playoffs in 2007, when the Senators went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final before losing to Anaheim in five games.

What we're trying to say here is that Daniel Alfredsson is a captain's captain, one of those guys who had to work extra hard to get to the NHL -- even more than just being a late draft choice.

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 Goteborg, his hometown. "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."

That change of position also brought out the best of Alfredsson's passion and grit for the game.

It was only because of a hunch by John Ferguson, then-Senators director of player personnel, that the team used a fourth-round pick for Alfredsson. The team raved about the selection of Radek Bonk with the third pick and others in that draft class, but Daniel has far outplayed everyone else in that 1994 draft class through the 11 seasons that have passed since that day.

"He's always competitive," said New York Rangers defenseman Wade Redden, a teammate of Alfie's Ottawa for nearly a decade. "In golf, cards, whatever. He plays everything hard and straight. In cribbage he counts every point."

When the 36-year-old winger hears 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."

Using his hands and his mind have always been important to Daniel. He remembers when he was a kid who just turned in his soccer jersey, he also changed his fall-back 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.
"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.." -- Daniel Alfredsson
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, who had to watch 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?"

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."

Said Alfredsson, "I learned at home that it's all about how you carry yourself, how you treat other people. I don't look at it like I'm being a bad captain now because we're not winning, just like I didn't look at it like I was a good captain because we went to the Stanley Cup Final.

"I judge my performance on and off the ice by being an example for the other guys and doing anything I can for the team."

Clearly, the Senators couldn't be in better hands than having the ultra-competitive Daniel Alfredsson as their captain.
Quote of the Day

The groove of being behind a bench is going to be interesting at first, but thank God we have a few exhibition games to get rid of those cobwebs. Overall the excitement of it all and the freshness and coming back refreshed, all those things are going to be assets. If [the players] come ready to give their best effort in practice and games, good things are going to happen. I'm always looking for results. It's not always on the scoreboard. It's winning and building something.

— Bryan Trottier on making his return to coaching as an assistant with the Sabres