DETROIT – Since Erik Karlsson arrived in Ottawa almost four years ago, Daniel Alfredsson has been there for the young Swedish defenseman.
Even though Alfredsson is now playing for the Red Wings, he is only a phone call away for the former Norris Trophy winner, who still appreciates what the former Senators’ captain has meant to his growth and development as a young NHL player.
The two friends will meet tonight for the first time as opponents when the Red Wings host their new Atlantic Division rivals tonight at Joe Louis Arena.
“We really want to win this game, not only because we’re playing Alfie, but because Detroit is a good team and they’re new in our division,” Karlsson said. “We’ve got to try and set the tone a little bit and we have to be at our best to play well against them.”
The first thing Karlsson did when the Senators arrived in Detroit on Tuesday was to drive to Alfredsson’s new home in suburban Birmingham, where Alfredsson’s wife, Bibi, fixed a traditional Swedish meal of potatoes, brown sauce and meatballs, which Karlsson certainly appreciated.
“It was nice for a change to be back in that situation,” he said of spending time with Alfredsson’s family.
When Karlsson first moved to Ottawa as a 19-year-old rookie, the Alfredssons invited him to move into their home, where he occasional played with and baby-sat their boys – Hugo, Loui, Fenix and William.
The relationship was beneficial for both players, but maybe more so for Alfredsson who credits his longevity to the young star.
“For me personally, he’s one of the reasons I’m still playing,” said Alfredsson of the 23-year-old defenseman. “When he came in he was a really good player from the beginning. I was able to be there for him and give him some guidance and help out, but he also brought a lot to the table with his energy and enthusiasm, great personality and fun to be around, made me feel younger.”
Karlsson said the feeling is mutual.
“That feels good and I think for the past four years that I’ve been here we’ve had a good time,” he said. “I’ve seen how he was when I came here and how he’s developed and how much more fun he thinks it is to play. Obviously, one of the biggest reasons is that his body is healthy and he’s feeling good. He’s still doing the things that he was doing when he was 30 out there.”
Alfredsson has moved on from the place where he was the face of hockey for 17 seasons, signing a one-year contract with the Red Wings last July. It’s definitely weird not to have him around anymore, Karlsson said Wednesday, but time heals all wounds, he hopes.
“I drive past his house every day to the rink, so it’s pretty tough to know that you’re not going to stop by there anymore,” Karlsson said. “But I think at the same time it’s not that bad. We’re used to seeing guys come and go, and we still keep in touch a lot. He’s just a phone call away and it’s not that bad.”
Tonight is the first of four meetings between the new division rivals, but this game has received so much international media attention that the main participants involved are looking forward to relief that only the opening puck drop will bring.
“It’s been talked about the last few days. So far (today’s) been pretty normal,” Alfredsson said. “We’ll start the game and see what happens. … Moving the family, that was the big step. It’s all part of the process. It’s been so long with one team and now the first time facing them. I really don’t know what to expect.”
Alfredsson can expect more of the same when he makes his much-anticipated return to the Canadian capital city when the Sens host the Red Wings on Dec. 1.
But first things, first for Alfredsson, who wants nothing more than to help his new team defeat his former mates.
“We know it’s an important game,” said Alfredsson, who leads the Wings with eight assists in 10 games. “I’ve followed them pretty closely so far and I know what they’re capable of, so we’re going to have to be ready.
“They’re a puck-pressure team. They skate a lot, they play aggressive. For us it’s going to be about executing in our own end, breaking the puck out and not allowing them to keep us pinned down in our own end.
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