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Alfredsson is anxious for return to Ottawa

by Staff Writer / Detroit Red Wings
Daniel Alfredsson scored twice in the Red Wings' 5-0 win against the Islanders on Friday. (Photo by Getty Images)

OTTAWA -- Just as Daniel Alfredsson has done hundreds of times before, he made his way out to the Ottawa Senators' suburban arena for practice.

Saturday was different though. Not only has the building been renamed Canadian Tire Centre, but Alfredsson entered it as a member of the Red Wings. Sunday, the former Senators' captain will play his first game in Ottawa since he left the team in the off-season to sign with Detroit as a free agent.

"It felt good," Alfredsson said after Red Wings practice Saturday afternoon. "There are always rinks around the league where you feel good when you go into, and I feel really good coming into this rink, there's no question."

The Senators' all-time leader in games played (1,178), goals (426), assists (682) and points (1,108), Alfredsson arrived here on a high note. He scored three points Friday, including his fifth and sixth goals of the season, in a 5-0 road victory against the New York Islanders that extended Detroit's winning streak to three.

Alfredsson was asked if he's anxious about the fans' reaction when his former team honors him with a video tribute prior to the game, the third between the Red Wings and Senators this season but the first in Ottawa.

"Not really," Alfredsson said. "I think I'm anxious to play the game. What happens is going to happen. It's a very different situation from anything I've ever gone through before, so I don't know what to expect or what's going to happen, but I'm hopeful that it's going to be a good night."

Senators French TV broadcaster Patrick Lalime, who was in his first season with Ottawa when Alfredsson was named captain in 1999, greeted his former teammate after he held court with assembled reporters, including a Swedish news agency reporter and TV crew.

The former Senators exchanged impressions of their respective first times back in the building where they played so many games, with Alfredsson saying his kids asked if they could get in the whirlpool.

That's one perk not available to Alfredsson and his family anymore.

His summer split with the Senators was not the way anyone in Ottawa envisioned Alfredsson's career wrapping up in Canada's capital, where all four of his sons were born.

"It was tough," Senators defenseman Marc Methot said. "I'd be lying if I said otherwise. We all had expected him to come back here, and he's had such a big impact in this locker room that it made it that much more difficult, and that's a compliment to the kind of guy he is."

Ottawa forward Chris Neil echoed the respect Alfredsson still commands from his former teammates.

"He was well-loved in this city, and that's the type of person he is," Neil said. "I'm sure the Detroit players will tell you the same thing. A great team guy and he fits in well, and (he'll) do anything for your teammates. He's one of the hardest-working guys on the ice, game in and game out, and that's what he was for all those years. Ottawa was lucky to have a guy like that for so many years, to be able to watch him play and produce like he did."

Senators defenseman Chris Phillips counted Alfredsson, who won the 1995-96 Calder Trophy, as a teammate for his entire career until this season.

"There's a big story out there about facing him, and when there's so much hoopla like that, you want to just come out on top," Phillips said. "You don't really need any more incentive or motivation than that, and that's not stuff that really we talk about, but at the same time, he wants to beat us as bad as we want to beat him. That's the nature of the sport."

Ottawa came out on top in the first two games with its new Atlantic Division foe, including a 6-1 win in Detroit on Oct. 26 and a 4-2 win last Saturday, also at Joe Louis Arena. Alfredsson missed that game with a groin injury.

"He was a quiet leader, and he was always very welcoming to new guys coming into the room, and just always carried himself with a measure of class," said Jason Spezza, who succeeded Alfredsson as captain.

Dec. 1 is a date that has been circled on calendars since the summer. The Senators understand the game's significance.

"We all know it's there, and we all know what to expect, and I don't think we have to walk around and talk about it to understand the meaning of it," said defenseman Erik Karlsson, a fellow Swede who was mentored by Alfredsson. "Obviously, it's going to be emotional when the video shows, but when the puck drops, I think it's going to just translate into any other game, and we're going to play hard and we're not going to focus on the white No. 11."

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock will put Alfredsson in the starting lineup. Senators coach Paul MacLean, who was an assistant on Babcock's staff before he was hired by Ottawa, said Sunday will be an opportunity for the team's fans to get a measure of closure.

"We've moved on; I know Daniel's moved on," MacLean said. "This gives the fans an opportunity to move on, and I think it will be good for everyone."

Phillips considered the question before answering what he thought will be Alfredsson's legacy in Ottawa.

"I don't know, maybe it changes a little bit, but I don't see it," Phillips said. "Things happen, and we get over them. I don't think we can ignore what he did for this team, for this city, for so many years. We were able to get by everything, after [Sunday], and his legacy remains whatever it was going to be before all this happened."

Babcock said Senators fans are free to acknowledge Alfredsson in any way they see fit but made it clear what type of reception he thinks Alfredsson deserves.

"One of the things that he gets to do here (Sunday) is say thanks, and he's done that already anyway, but anybody who's played almost 1,200 games in your organization has done a lot for your city," Babcock said. "And the kind of man he is off the ice, so it's his opportunity to kind of take a bow that way, and the people's opportunity to express what they've got to say, too, and they pay their money, so they get to do whatever they want, but respect is a real important factor in life."

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