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Alfredsson: 'You just want to give yourself a chance'

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Erik Karlsson doesn't need much convincing to tell you that his biggest mentor still has plenty of game.

"He says he feels good, that he feels way better than he did last year," the 21-year old Ottawa Senators defenceman said in reference to team captain Daniel Alfredsson."We even had a tennis game (recently) and he beat me 6-0, so he must be feeling pretty good. That's something that everybody is happy about."

Indeed, it was a common thread throughout the opening day of Senators training camp at Scotiabank Place. Everyone agrees this team is much better with its biggest leader on board, and the thought of having a healthy Alfredsson back in the lineup for the first time in seven months no doubt buoys everyone's spirits.

"That's real good news for all of us," Senators head coach Paul MacLean said as his players went through fitness testing and medicals to get the ball rolling on a new season. "If Daniel can come and play on our team every day ... he's still a National Hockey League player with great leadership abilities and the players have a ton of respect for him. The league has a ton of respect for him.

"It just makes us a way better team right away, if he's going to come (back) and play."

Alfredsson surely intends to do just that. With back surgery and an off-season of rehab and training behind him, the Senators captain is enthused about suiting up for a 16th season in Senators colours — and not just as a bit participant.

"I'm feeling a lot better," said the native of Goteborg, Sweden. "Skating wise, I'm still not as strong on my right side as I would like to be, but that's going to be a process and in the next few weeks, it's going to get better and better. I just need more ice. I've been skating three or four times a week now but with contact and more (coming), the next few weeks are going to be really important for me."

Senators general manager Bryan Murray believes Alfredsson's mere presence in the team's dressing room is a huge lift for the team, especially given the growing number of young faces that figure to occupy that space in the season ahead. But he admitted the prospect of losing that veteran influence crossed his mind as Alfredsson struggled to deal with a nerve issue in his lower back that limited the power in his right leg.

"We were worried about his career, there's no question," said Murray. "He had to have surgery. It took him a little while to be convinced of that and when he did have it ... he's relieved now that after much training, he'll be able to bounce back and be a good player for us ... I believe Alfie will be ready. I believe Alfie feels as good about himself as he has in some time. He's a very important guy here.

"Alfie being in the room, Alfie dressing for games and being part of the leadership core is critical. In particular with a young group, he brings a credibility to the organization and more than that, he has words (of advice) for them. He demonstrates it every day, that you have to work hard and be competitive. That rubs off on young people."

As the team's unquestioned leader, Alfredsson relishes those kinds of opportunities.

"It definitely is (something) you always do, which is to help other guys get better," he said. "You share your experiences and there's lots of young guys that are looking really good. Just help them in situations where they might not know what to expect and how to handle different adversity.

"It's going to be exciting and if we turn out to have a pretty good year and then you see the progress next year and you feel you've been a part of helping the young guys get better a lot quicker ... I'll take a lot of pride in that."

The ordeal he's gone through to get back to this point has also given Alfredsson a greater appreciation for life as a National Hockey League player. Which is why, at age 38, he acknowledges "I don't have too many more years left in me, so I'm really looking forward to starting and having a good year."

"Last year was very discouraging with how I felt, and frustrating more than anything," Alfredsson said of a season in which he played only 54 games, the fewest of his NHL career. "You just want to give yourself a chance. You can't take anything for granted. You can get injured, a lot of things can happen.

"I just look at it as (having) an opportunity to play in the NHL and I'm going to do everything I can to be as good as I can be. Just the competition within our team and playing against the best players in the world ... you can't take that for granted and it takes a lot of hard work. For me, it's how far can I push myself as I get older."

Maybe that's why, too, that as he approaches his 39th birthday, Alfredsson remains as enthused as ever about the dawn of a new season.

"I'm not as nervous coming into the (physical) testing. I know my abilities more now, but it is exciting," he said. "Once we start going onto the ice, I'm going to have to push myself to be good. Make sure that the young guys realize, too, that even if you're playing well, there's always ways to improve every day by doing the little things."

And yes, even after all these years, Alfredsson still includes himself in that group.

"Of course, I can (improve). My shot can get a lot better," he said with a grin. "My skating last year wasn't very good but as long as I'm healthy, that's going to improve a lot for me. And with the new coaches, you're going to learn new systems and react different ways. That's always exciting."

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