Every time he steps onto the ice, Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson provides an example for the younger players now with the team (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
Daniel Alfredsson sees it in the eyes of every wide-eyed newcomer to the Ottawa Senators dressing room.
The look that reminds him of a similar time and a similar circumstance, when a rookie forward looked for guidance during a rough time in franchise history.
“It’s a tough situation to come into,” said Alfredsson as he recalled his arrival in Ottawa during the 1995-96 season. “I came into a team where we were struggling big time, but we didn’t have the expectations (on us) that we do now.”
Alfredsson had mentors to guide him through it all – “Randy Cunneyworth and Sean Hill, to name a couple” – and he persevered so well that, after a 61-point season, he was named the Calder Trophy winner as the National Hockey League’s rookie of the year.
“We made sure we had some fun in the locker room and off the ice,” Alfredsson said of the last Senators team to miss the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“You’ve got to bring a good attitude every day and work hard.”
Fast forward to this season, the Senators’ worst since Alfredsson’s rookie season. Now the 10-year Senators captain is increasingly surrounded by youth looking for the same guidance Alfredsson found so valuable all those years ago.
He is only too happy to supply it, though Alfredsson realizes he’s not alone.
“We have quite a few guys here now who have been around,” he said about the Senators’ current core of veterans. “That’s a team. It’s not just a captain…. You’ve got look after each other and if someone’s down, you’ve got to pick him up and get him going again. That’s why we love team sports.”
Alfredsson chuckles when he’s asked about the advice he might have for several of the no-doubt nervous callups from Binghamton, N.Y., who have frequented the Senators dressing room this season.
“They should be nervous. That’s part of it,” he said. “That’s part of the game in the NHL. The thing you tell him is ‘just play.’ You’re here for a reason, just go out and play, don’t think too much and enjoy it. You should be nervous. Otherwise, you don’t care.”
Two stalls to Alfredsson’s right sits rookie forward Jesse Winchester, who revels in the opportunity to soak up any tidbit of advice from the most accomplished player in Senators history.
“He’s the face of the franchise,” said Winchester. “He really makes you feel at home. Especially me coming in as a new guy, I’ve been kind of wide-eyed. He’s looked out for me and just made it easier for me to become accustomed to life around here.
"We have quite a few guys here now who have been around. That's a team. It's not just a captain ... You've got look after each other and if someone's down, you've got to pick him up and get him going again. That's why we love team sports."- Daniel Alfredsson
“(Alfredsson) offers advice to me on the ice all the time. Even equipment issues, everything. He’s just a pleasure to be around.”
It’s the same kind of welcome Nick Foligno still feels as a second-year Senator.
“He’s a huge example of what this organization is all about,” said Foligno. “Hard work, dedication … (Alfredsson) has pretty much based his career on that. Even when you don’t think he has much to improve on, he finds little things he can do better.
“You try to learn as much as you can from him and he’s really helped me in that area.”
At 36, Alfredsson now relishes the opportunity to be such a mentor.
“That’s the best thing about being part of a sport like this, especially when you get older,” he said. “They have so much energy in them and it rubs off. It’s a lot of fun to be around them.”