|Team Sweden's Daniel Alfredsson is looking forward to inspiring his teammates with his never-say-die attitude over in Italy.|
by Karl Samuelson | NHL.com correspondent Feb. 14, 2006
When you think about the leadership corps for Team Sweden, certain names instinctively come to mind -- Peter Forsberg, Mats Sundin and Niklas Lidstrom. But you'd better add the name of Ottawa Senators team captain Daniel Alfredsson.
"That's for sure," says teammate Dany Heatley, who will be skating for Team Canada at the Olympics in Torino. "He is definitely going to be a leader for that team. I think this year he's taken it to another level. Daniel is playing unbelievable in all aspects of the game -- power play, penalty killing, even-strength -- he's done it all for us this year and he is going to be a guy we'll have to watch over there."
Although Alfredsson does not get the attention accorded Forsberg and Sundin back in Sweden, the 33-year-old is currently having a Hart Trophy-type season. Interesting for a player who was passed over several times in the draft. Every team in the NHL could have plucked the talented Swede during his early draft years, but finally at the age of 21, Alfredsson was chosen by the Senators in the sixth round (133rd overall) of the 1994 Entry Draft. Alfredsson led all Senators in scoring as a rookie and won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's best freshman in 1995-96. The four-time All-Star has been the Senators most consistent forward during his career and was rewarded by being named team captain on Oct. 2, 1999. The native of Gothenburg, a port city situated on the west coast of Sweden, has averaged better than a point-per-game while wearing the captain's jersey and inspires his teammates every time he steps on the ice.
How so? Alfredsson recently missed four games with a broken rib as a result of being struck by a Zdeno Chara slap shot in a 4-3 victory over the New York Islanders at the end of December -- that same month Alfredsson was named the NHL Offensive Player of the month after recording 25 points and a plus-14 rating in 12 games to help the Senators post a League-best 11-1-0 record. The Senators lost three of four games while their captain was on the shelf and Ottawa's feared power play went 0-for-24. Alfredsson returned to action 11 days after the injury and ignited a Senators' resurgence by scoring twice and adding two assists as Ottawa skated to a 7-2 win over the Phoenix Coyotes.
"He's huge for our team in Ottawa," says Wade Redden, who will play defense for Team Canada in Torino. "I know that he probably doesn't get the press in his home country as the other players do, but he is one of the true elite players in this League. Sweden has a lot of great players and Alfie usually plays with Sundin in these tournaments and those two are very good together."
Coyotes associate coach Barry Smith coached Alfredsson while serving in the same capacity with Team Sweden at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano. "Daniel is a tremendous player," says Smith. "I had him on the Olympic team and he is a great player. Daniel is extremely skilled, he competes, doesn't mind going to the net, doesn't mind getting dirty and he can do a lot of things for a team. He's a real pleasure to watch and he's a real pleasure to coach."
And a real pleasure to call your teammate.
"He is really something special," says Senators defenseman Brian Pothier. "Daniel is having an MVP year, not only for this team, but in the whole league. Every night he comes to play and is such a true professional in the way he prepares. His talent level really separates him from the pack too. He's going to be a real asset for the Swedes. Their team will have an edge and their skill level is just unbelievable. They're a feisty bunch too."
The Senators' captain is looking forward to inspiring his teammates with his never-say-die attitude over in Italy.
"It's going to be a great tournament," says the two-time Olympian. "There are so many teams that can win it and we've got to make sure we outwork them. Our defense is really good and very deep with six good defensemen. Henrik Lundqvist is our goaltender and he has been great this year with the New York Rangers. I think we can play good defensively and we have the ability to score goals. We have a good mix of young and older guys and the older guys can ease the pressure on our younger guys. But we know what we expect of ourselves and the most pressure will come within our locker room. Our goal is to make it to the finals.
"Once you get to the finals, the two best teams are going to be there," Alfredsson said. "I think Canada is probably the favorite because they won it last time, most of the same players will be there this time around and they have the most depth in the world in hockey. But then again I think that we are going to have a real good team and so will the Czechs, Slovaks, Finland, Russia and the US. It's a short tournament and you've got to make sure everything clicks at the right time. If you get good goaltending anything can happen."
While there is no disputing the huge leadership roles to be performed by perennial All-Star forwards like Forsberg and Sundin, the contributions of Alfredsson should never be underestimated. Whether charging headlong into the corners, one-timing the puck on net or quarterbacking the power play from the point, Alfredsson's high-energy play will be infectious for Team Sweden.
"He is phenomenal here and he will be in the Olympics," says teammate Chris Neil. "There are really no words that will do justice to what Alfie brings to the game. So many guys look up to him and I know that he keeps me going every game. When you look at a guy like that going out there working so hard and getting in the corners, setting us up, it makes you want to play that much harder. He leads by example. I watch him every day in practice and I see him play every game and being on the ice with Daniel Alfredsson makes you a better player. He is a great role model for everybody on this team and he will be the same for Team Sweden."