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Through good and bad, Alfredsson stands tall

by Karl Samuelson
Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle once said, "… the history of the world is but the biography of great men." It could be argued that the history of a hockey franchise is but the biography of a great captain. That is, if the franchise is the Ottawa Senators and the captain is Daniel Alfredsson. The fortunes of the team have been closely tied to the emergence of the Gothenburg, Sweden native, first as an offensive catalyst and now as one of the NHL's truly great leaders.
"I think he is a great guy, number one," says Senators General Manager Bryan Murray. "I think that's most important. I think he is a great character person with a tremendous work ethic. He wants to be an important player. He wants to be a responsible player. I think that skilled players who work real hard have a big influence on the team and Alfie has done that and so much more. That's why he is a great captain."

But accolades don't just flow from those associated with the franchise. Opponents too have a good read on the Senators leader.

"Alfredsson has great speed, great grit, and is their go-to-guy," says Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Ray Shero, who spent his formative years as a hockey executive with the Senators. "He wears the ‘C' for a reason – all of his teammates respect him."

"He leads by example," adds Boston Bruins defenseman Shane Hnidy, a former Senator who played with Nashville, Atlanta and Anaheim. "I know that Alfie is classified as a skilled player, but watch his play and you will see that he is often the first guy in on the forecheck, he will pinch, make a big hit and work hard to get back. When you see a guy like Alfie going out there and playing that way, it motivates all the other players to step up and match it."

Learn more about Alfredsson Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET, when the NHL Network presents "Captains Driven By Bridgestone," a 20-part original series that will feature Alfredsson.

The Ottawa captain has had his share of critics over the years who questioned his ability to lead in the clutch – at playoff time when emotions are high and the stakes are even higher. Those critics were nowhere to be seen during the 2007 playoffs as Alfredsson inspired his club with his work ethic and offensive production. In 20 playoff games he led all scorers with 14 goals, four game winners and tied teammates Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza for the league lead with 22 points.

"Daniel had lots of raps over time and that happens when you don't win championships and you don't go far in the playoffs,"  Murray said. "But this guy has been the ultimate captain for our hockey team. He's a hard-working guy. A driving force. It seems like whatever line you put him on, he's the guy that gets the points for you, shorthanded, guys draped all over him. He was the most important player and the best player a lot of nights (last season) because I moved him around more than anybody. When I needed a checking line, a lot of nights I put him with Chris Kelly and Antoine Vermette and I put him with Mike Fisher for awhile. To me, he's the example of hard work. He has been a great leader."

Although the Anaheim Ducks won the 2007 Stanley Cup in five games and deprived the Senators of the ultimate prize, Alfredsson and his teammates did win some victories of sorts. After recording his fifth straight 25-goal season, Alfredsson became the first European captain to lead his team to the Stanley Cup final. Most importantly, the club erased any vestiges of being underachievers. For 10 years, the club boasted a lineup large on skill but short on will. Impressive regular season results were followed by stunning upsets and early playoff exits, most notably at the hands of their archrival Toronto Maple Leafs.

"We've had some disappointments," says Alfredsson. "But the way some people talk it seems like every year has been a disappointment to us. I don't think that's the case at all. We've had some really good seasons. We've had some disappointments in the playoffs. We haven't played to our potential, but every year presents a new opportunity."

"Daniel had lots of raps over time and that happens when you don't win championships and you don't go far in the playoffs. But this guy has been the ultimate captain for our hockey team. He's a hard-working guy. A driving force."
-- Bryan Murray on Daniel Alfredsson

Opportunity indeed. But such opportunity must have seemed light years away when Alfredsson first joined the team in 1995-96. After every team passed over him during his early draft years, Alfredsson caught the eye of the late John Ferguson who served as an executive with the club in the early years. At the age of 21, Alfredsson was chosen by the Senators in the sixth round, 133rd overall, of the 1994 Entry Draft. He quickly gave notice that the days of the Senators being the laughing-stock of the league were about to end as he led the team in scoring and won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year in 1995-96. The captain and the team went through a maturation process together.

"My first year was '95-96 and it was obviously an interesting year, being a first year (player) there were a lot of new things," recalls Alfredsson. "We had a tough year as a team. We won 18 games. Dead last. It started to change when Jacques Martin arrived in January that year and took over as the coach. He really got us playing more of a defensive style game. Playing with less skill than most teams we had to really look after our own end. And I think it had results pretty much right away. The following year we squeezed into the playoffs for the first time and lost to Buffalo in seven games."

"We've been in the playoffs ever since," said Alfredsson, who is the only Senator to play in all 99 playoff games in recent club history. "Even though we've had some failures, I think this franchise has done a lot of great things. The scouting staff has done a great job scouting some great players through the years. It's been an evolution here. We had a couple of disappointments but we had some really good teams. Changes were made and Bryan Murray came in. I think he's been able to take us to another level."

Baseball legend Hank Aaron once said "Failure will never stand in the way of success if you learn from it." That's the major task facing Alfredsson now, as the 2008-09 season has been one of constant strife and turmoil with the Senators in the Northeast Division basement. The prospects for reaching the playoffs this spring are gloomy at present. But Alfredsson remembers the run to the Stanley Cup Final as containing its fair share of adversity too.

"We went through a roller-coaster season and I think we learned a lot from it," says Alfredsson. "We jelled as a team in the second half and a lot of players found their roles, got increased roles and played really well. A lot of players got to play in different situations. I think that helped us in the playoffs.

"It's hard. I don't think we can pinpoint one thing that is going to make us climb over the top. I think we have to create good habits throughout the season and we know it's going to take a lot of hard work."

"It's always frustrating after you lose," continues Alfredsson. "But if you don't make the playoffs it's no fun and if you lose in the first or second round it's disappointing. Being as close as we were it's tough, but we weren't good enough in the finals. Now we look forward to a new challenge. I am trying to stay in the present. … It is a long season with a lot of challenges ahead but that's something we look forward to."
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