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Alfredsson skates with Senators one last time

by Chris Stevenson

OTTAWA -- It was a fitting ending to Daniel Alfredsson's last skate with the Ottawa Senators on Thursday.

Alfredsson, who's been dealing with recurring back problems, signed a ceremonial agreement earlier in the day that allowed him to retire as a member of the Senators, for whom he played 17 seasons.

He then skated in warm-ups with Ottawa as they prepared to play the New York Islanders at Canadian Tire Centre.

With a minute to go in the pregame skate, Alfredsson and the Senators engaged in a giant game of keep-away, the player with the puck trying to hang on to it against his teammates.

Keep-away was one of Alfredsson's favorites. It was usually the way he and a few of his teammates would conclude practice.

With the Foo Fighters' "My Hero" playing over the sound system, the fans cheered as Alfredsson grabbed the puck and stickhandled his way through a few of the other players.

It was a touching moment as Alfredsson, who played the 2013-14 season with the Detroit Red Wings, returned to the city where he started his NHL career to say thank you and goodbye to Senators fans.

"Oh my God, that could've been one of my best skates ever," Alfredsson said. "Just basically knowing that this is the last time I get to experience this and in this atmosphere. I couldn't have played, I'm not in good enough shape. But I skated a couple laps and you feel like, 'Maybe a few shifts.' It gets the juices flowing, the energy that's in the rink. It's incredible. "

After warm-ups, highlights of Alfredsson's career with the Senators were shown on the videoboard. Drawing the biggest cheers were Alfredsson's lampooning of Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin tossing his stick into the crowd at Air Canada Centre and Alfredsson's controversial hit on Maple Leafs forward Darcy Tucker in the 2002 Stanley Cup Playoffs, after which Alfredsson scored the winning goal.

Alfredsson scored 426 goals and had 682 assists for 1,108 points in 1,178 regular-season games with the Senators.

The 41-year-old Swede returned to the ice before the opening faceoff. He circled the ice as the crowd again chanted his name.

He was joined at center ice by his family and addressed the crowd.

"Thank you for all the great times and all the beautiful memories," Alfredsson said. "They will connect us with all of you forever.

"Now the plan for me is take some time off, spend some time with my family. Let's not say goodbye. Merci. A bientot. (Thank you. See you soon.) Thank you," Alfredsson said.

In what has become a tradition at Canadian Tire Centre, the fans chanted "Alfie, Alfie, Alfie" when the clock hit 11:11 each period.

The Senators were led onto the ice for warm-ups by goaltender Craig Anderson, who quickly turned and stood by the gate. The other players followed him out, forming two rows.

Alfredsson was the last player to emerge from the hallway. He skated out to cheers and a chant of "Alfie, Alfie, Alfie," and raised his stick to acknowledge the crowd.

After a couple of laps around the Senators zone, Alfredsson took warm-ups seriously, dropping to the ice and stretching with Ottawa captain Erik Karlsson and alternate captains Chris Phillips and Chris Neil.

When the Senators started taking shots on Anderson, Alfredsson was the first player to skate from the hash marks out to the blue line, where he took a pass from Phillips.

Alfredsson skated in on Anderson and fired a shot to Anderson's glove side. The Senators goaltender made the save, drawing a smattering of boos from the crowd.

Senators goalie Andrew Hammond, called up from Binghamton of the American Hockey League before the game to replace Robin Lehner, was beaten by Alfredsson on Alfredsson's next attempt, and the crowd cheered.

After the game of keep-away, the Senators reformed their two lines leading to the gate at the end of the bench, leaving Alfredsson to turn slow circles, his stick raised and the fans chanting his name.

As he skated between the lines of Senators players to leave the ice after warm-ups, he raised his hands and applauded the crowd.

It was a feel-good moment after Alfredsson's departure as a free agent in the summer of 2013 to play for the Red Wings. At a press conference Thursday, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk said the door was open for Alfredsson to return to work in the Senators front office.

Alfredsson said the events Thursday made him feel like a part of the organization and the city again.

"Very much so. It's as good an ending as anyone can hope for," he said. "I'm very happy that it turned out the way it did and I was able to get this opportunity. I thanked (Senators general manager) Bryan (Murray) and Mr. Melnyk earlier. They made this happen, and for that I'm very grateful."

Alfredsson said the ceremony and reception from the fans was better than he expected.

"I didn't expect my retirement would be this big a deal," Alfredsson said. "The way I've been welcomed back has been almost surreal. I don't know how to thank everybody more than saying thank you. It means a lot to me and to my family, obviously, and to my kids as well. I'll be forever grateful."

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