When he first arrived from Sweden more than a dozen years ago, Daniel Alfredsson
never imagined it would last this long.
That he’d still be going stronger than ever, 800 games into a career that keeps getting better with age. Every second of it spent with the same National Hockey League team.
But that’s the latest milestone the Ottawa Senators captain will hit tonight at Scotiabank Place, a number that shows no signs of hitting its end point anytime soon.
“Who knows how long you’re going to play or how many games you’re going to get in?”
Alfredsson said Thursday morning as he pondered the longevity he’s achieved in a Senators uniform.
“But 800, that’s a lot more than I thought I would get.”
Ask anyone who’s watched Alfredsson this season, and they’ll tell you the end is nowhere in sight for the Senators’ classy captain. Especially his teammates, who marvel at the elite level of play the 34-year-old Alfredsson maintains each and every day.
“If I play that long, I’d be ecstatic,” said rugged winger Chris Neil
, who marks a special moment of his own by playing in his 400th career game tonight against the Buffalo Sabres (7:30 p.m., A-Channel, Team 1200). “Just to be around that long and play the way he does … that’s incredible.”
Added centre Mike Fisher: “He’s a great leader, one of the best all-around players in the league. He seems to be getting better and better. He’s a character guy, he works hard night in and night out … You can’t say enough good things about him.”
Alfredsson admits he has “no plans to retire” anytime to soon. But he just shakes his head and chuckles when asked if he might push the number to 1,500 games someday. The century mark, though? Alfredsson sees that as a definite possibility.
“It’s 200 (more games), 2½ to three seasons,” said Alfredsson, who turns 35 on Dec. 11. “If I stay healthy, why not?
“But when you get older, you just take it year by year and you see where it adds up at the end. I don’t think you can set a goal. You might get injured, you might just feel like it’s enough, or you might play forever until they kick you out … but right now, I have no plans of quitting.”
Neil, too, is understandably proud of reaching his own milestone. The sixth-year Senators winger has had to do it the hard way, but he’s established himself as a player who serves a valuable role in the Ottawa lineup.
“It’s good to be around that long, to play 400,” said Neil, flashing his trademark toothless grin. “You think back to your first game, you’re just excited to be in the NHL … your first goal is just to get a game in the National Hockey League. Then it’s (lasting) your first year.
“A long time later, 400 games later, it’s an honour to say you’ve been around this long.”
Maybe it’s appropriate that the Alfredsson and Neil milestones come against a team that’s become one of the Senators’ biggest rivals in recent years. It’s the first meeting between the Senators and Sabres since Alfredsson’s overtime goal back on May 19 sent the Senators to the Stanley Cup final for the first time in modern franchise history.
The Sabres are off to a slow 6-9-1 start, but the 14-2-0 Senators are expecting the usual test from this Buffalo crew.
“They’re still a good team and they’ve got lots of talent, so we expect them to come on and be better,” said Fisher. “We’re not going to take them lightly.”