Daniel Alfredsson was a 22-year-old playing for Vastra Frolunda HC in his native Sweden when he got to meet Mark Messier. Little did he know he would win a trophy named for the NHL legend nearly 20 years later.
That day came Friday, when Alfredsson was named the recipient of the 2012-13 Mark Messier Leadership Award presented by Bridgestone, which is given to "the player who exemplifies great leadership qualities to his team, on and off the ice during the regular season."
Messier solicits suggestions from club and League personnel and NHL fans to compile a list of potential candidates, but the final selection belongs to him. That's what makes the award so special for Alfredsson.
"It's probably the most humbling experience," Alfredsson said during a conference call with reporters. "Mark's been one of the guys I've looked up to throughout my career."
Alfredsson met Messier when he was on a touring team playing during the NHL lockout in 1994-95. The team of NHL players faced off against Alfredsson's Frolunda squad, and the teams shared a meal afterward.
"They came out and had dinner with us and I got to meet him. He's just a great person, not only a player," Alfredsson said. "The biggest thing with him was that he brought the team together, he made the team perform to his levels. That's what great players like that do. It's a great honor to get this award for sure."
Messier said he chose Alfredsson over the other finalists, Dustin Brown of the Los Angeles Kings and Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks, because of Alfredsson's status as the NHL's longest serving captain and his accomplishments on and off the ice over the course of an 18-year career.
"One of the things I have a lot of respect for is the guy has been able to have a body of work with one organization and not run out of ideas of how to reinvent himself every day, to have a consistent message and a consistent attitude of who he is, not only as a player but as a person," Messier told NHL.com. "The only way you have longevity in an organization is to have that kind of overall attitude both on the ice and off the ice. All three [finalists] are well respected, but Alfredsson being the longest serving captain in the NHL now has a body of work that is pretty impressive. You can talk to anybody around the League -- players, managers, people in the press, fans -- they would say the same thing, that he holds a lot of credibility."
It can be seen in the way his teammates react anytime they are asked about their 40-year-old captain.
"Congrats to @DAlfredsson11 for winning the Messier award," Senators center Kyle Turris tweeted Friday evening, "can't tell ya how lucky I am to have the chance to learn from him on and off the ice."
Alfredsson's coach took the praise one step further.
"To me, they could rename [the award] if they ever wanted to. It can be Daniel Alfredsson," Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean said. "The two years that I've been here in Ottawa he's been a great help to me. Believe me, we have conversations all the time about our team and how we're playing and what's going on, and he's been a tremendous help for me.
"I think it's very well-deserved, especially for this season. I think by far that he was the best captain in the National Hockey League with what our team faced and how our team continued to compete and he continued to compete."
Alfredsson's leadership off the ice in the Ottawa community has been just as impressive as his accomplishments on the ice. He has been a longtime supporter of the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa, purchasing tickets and suites for club members to attend Senators games, and has served as title sponsor of Ringside for Youth, the club's primary fundraising event during the season.
Since 2008, Alfredsson has been the spokesperson and champion for the Royal's "You Know Who I Am" campaign, leading the way to help reduce the stigma surrounding mental-health issues. In addition, Alfredsson has supported the Royal's "Do It for Daron" campaign to assist in raising the profile of youth mental-health issues.
Alfredsson shared the story of his sister's battle with generalized anxiety disorder in an attempt to further encourage people with mental-health issues to come forward and talk about it.
"The most rewarding thing for me is the response I got from people out in the city, coming up to me and saying, 'I'm so thankful for you speaking out because I have this person who is suffering or I myself am suffering,'" Alfredsson said. "That makes me feel really good, when you really get that feeling that people appreciate us as role models."