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Alfredsson adjusting as Senators come to town

by Brian Hedger /

DETROIT -- It's not the "big one" that will happen Dec. 1, when Daniel Alfredsson returns to Ottawa for the first time as a Detroit Red Wing, but Wednesday at Joe Louis Arena still will be emotional for the former Ottawa Senators captain.

Alfredsson will face his former team for the first time since joining the Red Wings in the summer as an unrestricted free agent, leaving behind a franchise he captained for 14 of his 17 seasons there.

Emotional might be putting it too lightly.

"It was a very tough decision, especially when it happened fairly quickly. But the way I looked at it at the time and still do today, it's a huge challenge for myself personally, both on and off the ice," Alfredsson said after practice here Tuesday. "It's a big challenge for our family and I think I will look back at this down the road as something that was a stepping stone for me in my life, in a lot of different areas."

He used that term, stepping stone, twice while talking with reporters still intent on probing his decision to start anew at age 40 in a new city. Alfredsson also twice compared the move to his decision to leave Gothenburg, Sweden, at age 22 to play for the Senators, a decision he said changed his life immeasurably.

"When you've been in one place for so long ... I was in Gothenburg for the first 22 years of my life and leaving that was definitely harder than this move has been, because you go to a different continent. I didn't know anybody on the team and [my] English language was OK but not brilliant," he said. "That was a huge step. If I look back at my life right now, I don't think I would be the person I am if I wouldn't have taken that chance. This is another stepping stone for me and my family to grow and experience new adventures."

It hasn't come without speed bumps.

The Alfredssons, including his wife and four sons, lived in a hotel for about a month before getting moved into their new house and settling into new surroundings, including schools and youth sports teams.

Life away from the rink slowly is getting to feel more normal, but it's also apparent the tug of the old place hasn't entirely worn off. Though he enjoys his new supporting role with Detroit, it's quite different from the constant spotlight he lived with in Ottawa.

"It's been mixed emotions, I guess," Alfredsson said. "I mean, I miss a lot about Ottawa, there's no question ... being at the rink and being 'the guy.' At the same time, I also enjoy not being 'the guy,' and kind of worrying about myself a little bit more."

It's also been a mixed bag of results in his first 10 games with Detroit.

Though he has one goal and eight assists, Alfredsson hasn't found a long-term home among the Red Wings' forward units. He's played right wing on every line but the fourth and is trying to develop chemistry with his teammates. Detroit coach Mike Babcock hasn't overlooked that fact or Alfredsson's transition to a new community.

"To me it's more about your surroundings," Babcock said. "He'd been the captain of that team [Ottawa] for a long time and you come in here and it's different and you've got to get used to people and who you're playing with. His line's been different just about every day, so it's just a matter of time. But he's been excellent."

Alfredsson is far more critical of his play.

"I think it's been so-so," he said. "I can't say I'm really happy. Some games have been good. Some haven't been as good. But I definitely feel like my game is pretty good right now and I feel confident and stronger on the puck than I did maybe earlier in the season."

"I think it was more just the emotions about leaving the city and all the friends and people behind who made my time there so special. I think that was the hardest part. There was no resentment toward anyone or anybody. It was just leaving the city and everything behind."
-- Red Wings F Daniel Alfredsson on leaving Ottawa

It helps that Ottawa coach Paul MacLean  coached with Babcock in Detroit, so adjusting to the different systems has been a little easier. Adjusting to the new uniform and new chapter in life is a different story. Alfredsson said he never felt ill will toward anyone in the Senators organization for the circumstances that led to his decision, but it's clear leaving Ottawa stung him personally.

"I think it was more just the emotions about leaving the city and all the friends and people behind who made my time there so special," he said. "I think that was the hardest part. There was no resentment toward anyone or anybody. It was just leaving the city and everything behind. When I decided to come over to Ottawa in 1995, it was the same emotions ... and both Gothenburg and Ottawa are still there and are going to be there and that's a very comforting feeling."

For Alfredsson, the Senators' arrival Wednesday is sure to bring out some emotions not typically felt during the regular season. There's no sense hiding from it.

"He was there [in Ottawa] a long time and I don't care who you are, there's lots of emotion in that when you face your old team," Babcock said. "There'll be emotions that he made a decision and we're thankful for the decision. The great thing about it is we're all entitled to make those and he decided to come here. Obviously, anytime you change your environment after that long it's not going to be as comfortable as the old place ... but I think life's about embracing change anyway."

As long as it doesn't go too far.

Alfredsson probably summed up his feelings about leaving Ottawa best with a one-liner toward the end of his media huddle Tuesday. While talking about various NHL jerseys his sons now wear, aside from Red Wings garb at games, he was asked if any of them had donned Toronto Maple Leafs attire.

After the laughter subsided, Alfredsson smiled and drew an invisible line in front of him.

"We have to draw the line somewhere," he said.

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