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Milestone brings Alfie full circle

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson scored his first NHL goal against the Florida Panthers. Tuesday night, he'll play his 1,000th career game in the league against the Panthers in Sunrise, Fla. (Photo by Bill Wippert/Getty Images).

There is nothing remotely historic — at least in hockey terms — about the place where Daniel Alfredsson is about to mark one of those truly special and unique career milestones.

But perhaps there is indeed something appropriate about the Ottawa Senators captain playing his 1,000th career National Hockey League game at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla., on Tuesday night (7 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200). Even if the Florida Panthers' current home rink has been around about three seasons less than Alfredsson.

Ask Alfredsson about his first NHL road game — Oct. 13, 1995, he says in quickly recalling the date — and he'll remind you that the Panthers also supplied the opposition that night at the old Miami Arena. Not that he can tell you much else in the way of details about the Senators' second contest of his rookie season against a team that would go on to make a memorable and surprising run to the Stanley Cup final.

"I scored a goal, I think it was on a 5-on-3," said Alfredsson, who would later be awarded the Calder Trophy at the end of that season as the NHL's rookie of the year. "It hit my rear end (when) I was in front of the net ... I remember that but otherwise, I don't remember much, other than it being crazy playing hockey in this kind of weather."

Back then, Alfredsson might have thought the same thing about the possibility of still being in Ottawa and the NHL some 998 games later. But that being said, the native of Goteborg, Sweden, is doing his best to take this latest career milestone in stride.

"I don’t think it matters from the perspective that the 1,000th game has to be something special," said Alfredsson, who'll become only the 44th player in NHL history to hit that total with a single franchise. "For me personally, you approach in it a way that you want to have a good showing. You just don’t want to go out there and go through the motions. I’ll try to make it as good as I can and whatever happens happens."

The Senators will honour Alfredsson before Saturday's game against the Buffalo Sabres at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). That's the moment, the captain admitted, that he is truly looking forward to, though he admitted he didn't consider sitting out games to ensure the 1,000th game would come before the fans who have come to revere Alfredsson over the years.

"I don't think it really matters if I play the 1,000th game in Ottawa or not," he said. "It almost did work out that way with injuries and stuff this year. But I just want to try to play all the games that are left to be as prepared as I can be and the team can be going into the playoffs.

Daniel Alfredsson's stall at the BankAtlantic Center sits ready for his 1,000th career NHL game, which he'll play against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night (OSHC Photo).
"This is in Florida and it is the 1,000th game. But I don’t think it’ll be until Saturday, when they’ll do the little ceremony for me and you get to share it with your home fans, your family and some friends ... that’s what I think is going to be the special moment and what’s going to stand out for me."

While he's been behind the Ottawa bench for only a small fraction of Alfredsson's career, Senators head coach Cory Clouston appreciates the magnitude of the moment — and the stature of the man who is on the verge of it.

"It’s a credit to him to play all those games with one organization," said Clouston. "That doesn’t happen very often these days and it shows his commitment to this organization and how badly he wants this team to win. To reach 1,000 games is a pretty honourable milestone, for sure.

"He plays hard, he plays well and he plays right.  I think the best (example) that I can recall in the short period of time I’ve been here was last year, when he broke his jaw. He missed maybe two games and came back with a full cage. We were playing well, he wanted to be part of that and he wanted to show that he wanted to help move the team in the right direction."

Alfredsson will no doubt have that some though in mind on Tuesday night, when the Senators aim to rebound from Saturday's 4-1 road loss to the New York Islanders — a result that ended Ottawa's six-game winning streak. Now comes a pair of matchups in Florida against two more non-playoff teams.

"That’s the tough challenge for the Florida and Tampa (on Thursday) games here, to mentally get into it when you want to do really well but the urgency of ‘must win’ isn’t really there," said Alfredsson. "So you’ve got to get your emotion up, you’ve got to get mad a little bit and get that little extra edge you need. That’s what we’re going to have to battle the next two games here."

Michalek nearing return to Senators lineup

Milan Michalek's (knee) return to the lineup appears imminent. The Senators forward skated on his own with assistant coach Luke Richardson this morning, then said it will be a game-time decision whether he suits up against the Panthers.

"Every day, it's getting better and better, so I think I'm ready to play," said Michalek. "We'll see how it feels tomorrow and we'll decide tomorrow. But Thursday (in Tampa), I think I'll play for sure."

Since suffering the injury March 18 in Atlanta, Michalek has been targeting a return in time for the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs, which are now just nine days away.

"It was my main goal, to be back for the playoffs," he said. "And I wanted to get some games before the playoffs, so I can get my timing back."

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