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Alfredsson 'humbled' by outpouring of affection

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson raises his stick to salute fans who gave him a thunderous ovation during player introductions prior to the Molson Canadian All-Star Skills Competition, held on Saturday night at Scotiabank Place (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images).

It has always been billed as the ultimate celebration of the game.

But almost true to form, Ottawa's hockey-loving fans turned Saturday night's all-star affair into one more passionate tribute to the greatest — and, yes, the most beloved — Senator of them all.

While the particulars of the 2012 Molson Canadian All-Stars Skills Competition are likely to fade with time, Daniel Alfredsson isn't likely to forget the thunderous reception that greeted him during the player introductions at Scotiabank Place. The National Hockey League's longest-serving active captain had barely set foot on the ice when the raucous chants of Al-fie, Al-fie came cascading down toward him in wave after emotional wave.

In the moments after his squad defeated Zdeno Chara's team 21-12 on an entertaining evening of all-star fun, Alfredsson found all the adulation difficult to put into words.

"It’s special. I don’t know how to describe it," said Alfredsson, clearly savouring every second of what could be his all-star hurrah, and right in his adopted hometown." It’s humbling and I almost feel awkward a little bit. There’s so many great players here. But I’ve always had a good relationship with the fans. They’ve been with me through my downs, through my ups, all the way. They respect what I’ve done and I’ve definitely benefitted from their support."

While he's heard the 'Al-fie, Al-fie' chants before — they started with gusto during the Senators' run to the 2007 Stanley Cup final — rarely has he had a chance to take it in like this time. And it's pretty clear that the modest Swede is overwhelmed by it all.

"Today, when the setting is as it is ... it's a celebration of the game and you can take it in a lot more than in a (regular) game, when you're so focused and you've got to go out for the next shift," said Alfredsson. "So it was very touching and humbling, for sure."

Three of his Senators teammates — Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson and Milan Michalek — are part of 'Team Alfie' this weekend and every one of them badly wanted their captain to be a part of this historic first NHL all-star weekend in the nation's capital. It is turning into everything they could ever have wanted for Alfredsson, and then some.

"Everybody that's close to him is really happy for him. I know I am," said Karlsson, who's developed an extremely close friendship with his fellow Swede during his short time in Ottawa. "I couldn't wish him anything else, I think, and to be here alongside him and see all of this ... you just feed off the joy he has right now, and it really helps you understand how big and how much fun this is."

Added Spezza: "It was nice to see (the huge ovation) and it's well deserved. Alfie's been here for a long, long time and it's nice to see the crowd pay respect to him. He's put a lot into this weekend and we're all excited to be here, and it's nice to see the fans cheer for him the way that they did."

Alfredsson is equally grateful to have three Senators sharing this weekend with him. It's made it an occasion perhaps like no other for the Sens Army faithful who are soaking it up for all it's worth, making this an all-star celebration that is being universally hailed by many in the hockey world.

"We’re getting so much credit that it feels almost too much," said Alfredsson. "To have Jason and Erik and Milan here, too, from the team makes it even better. And I know for the fans here, they love hockey, they know hockey and for them to get to be able to see this up close is great. So we’re very fortunate to have the all-star game here and we’re making the most of it."

He is also making sure younger players such as Karlsson are sure to appreciate it all. Alfredsson shared this simple thought with the 21-year-old blueliner before both were introduced to huge ovations: "Enjoy every moment now and have as much fun as you can."

"I think the same thing goes for him," said Karlsson. "The fans and the crowd and everybody gave him a chance to be as happy as he can possibly be. That's what he is right now."

Ironically, it was the one Senator who didn't suit up for Team Alfredsson — rookie forward Colin Greening — who came the closest to tasting individual skills glory. But the Newfoundland native was edged in the Bridgestone Fastest Skater event by Carl Hagelin of the New York Rangers.

Other winners on the night included Team Chara's Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks, Allstate Breakaway Challenge; Team Chara's Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars, Canadian Tire Accuracy Shooting, and Team Alfredsson's Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Tim Hortons Elimination Shootout.

Chara got the crowd buzzing in the Blackberry Hardest Shot event, unleashing a record blast of 108.8 mph. Three times in all, he topped his own previous standard of 105.9. "Just ridiculous," an impressed Alfredsson called it.

In the end, however, Team Alfredsson's group effort — which produced a victory in the G Skills Challenge Relay, among other top results — couldn't be denied.

"Henrik (Lundqvist of the New York Rangers, his assistant captain) and I tried to piece together a good team and a lot of guys performed unbelievably well and did a great job," said Alfredsson. "It's tons of fun but at the same time ... you want to try to beat the opponent you're going against. We're happy with the win and overall, just a great attitude and a lot of fun."

The weekend festivities wrap up with Sunday's 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game (4 p.m., CBC).

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