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Senators always follow their leader

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Rookie defenceman Erik Karlsson is one of several young Senators to have benefited from the wisdom and welcoming ways of captain Daniel Alfredsson, who plays his 1,000th NHL game tonight (Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/OSHC).

On the ice, the 'C' emblazoned on his jersey makes it abundantly clear he's the captain of the Ottawa Senators ship.

But Daniel Alfredsson's teammates will tell you that his leadership skills often extend well beyond the walls of the Senators dressing room. Whether it's offering advice about equipment or providing a welcoming set of arms for new players young and old, Alfredsson is clearly the man the Senators look to for direction at all times.

"When I came in (after a trade), my first couple of days being a Senator, he was the first to welcome me to the family," said forward Ryan Shannon of his introduction to the Senators captain, who will play his 1,000th career National Hockey League game tonight in Sunrise, Fla., against the Panthers (7 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200).

"I knew right away he was a special guy. As a player, he makes players around him better. He's easy to play with and a role model for a player like me."

Veteran forward Chris Kelly, a teammate of Alfredsson's for five years now, calls him "the heart and soul of this franchise" both on and off the ice and a vital source of comfort and leadership for the Senators' younger players.

"He's always been one of those guys who welcomes young guys with open arms," said Kelly. "He's been a positive figure for everyone who has come into that dressing room and it continues when he has a young player move into his home and live with his family.

"For someone to take that commitment on and help (a younger player) early in career is huge. On the ice, his play is second to none ... he goes out and plays hard every night."

Rookie Erik Karlsson felt Alfredsson's welcoming touch earlier this season, when the 19-year-old blueliner spent a few months living with the captain and his family. Then again, who better than Alfredsson to teach a fellow Swede about the ins and outs of handling the cultural transition to North America — a journey he made himself nearly 15 years ago.

"I've always known who he’s been as a player," said Karlsson." I didn’t get to know him (personally) until I came here and what he’s done for me so far this year has been more than enough. I think that he has helped me a lot to become the player I am today.

"He’s always a good guy to talk to — he’s always happy. If it’s something you need help with, you can ask him. Even off the ice, he helped me a lot there to get settled in better (in Ottawa) and get everything going there. That’s helped me a lot on the ice as well. Whenever you have a hard time, it’s always good to have him around. He’s just been very good to me."

Alfredsson, it turned out, was one of the first people in the organization to speak to Karlsson. He announced the fellow Frolunda Indians grad's name as the Senators top pick (15th overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft held at Scotiabank Place.

"I can't remember exactly what he said, but I think it was something like 'welcome aboard' or something like that," said Karlsson. "There were a lot of emotions that day, so I can't remember exactly what he said, but he welcomed me in and obviously I was very happy that he was there."

"What he’s done for me so far this year has been more than enough. I think that he has helped me a lot to become the player I am today. He’s always a good guy to talk to — he’s always happy. If it’s something you need help with, you can ask him. Even off the ice, he helped me a lot there to get settled in better (in Ottawa) and get everything going there. That’s helped me a lot on the ice as well. He’s just been very good to me." - Erik Karlsson
So, too, are some of the other young Europeans who have made their way into the Senators dressing room over the years.

"My first few years were very tough," said Russian-born defenceman Anton Volchenkov, the Senators' first-round pick in the 2000 draft. "I spoke no English, nothing. He just helped me by explaining things. He's just a great guy."

Jesse Winchester, a late-season free-agent signing in 2008 who sit two stalls over from Alfredsson in the Senators dressing room, couldn't agree more.

"He tries to make you feel at home," said Winchester, a native of nearby Long Sault, Ont. "He invited me over for dinner when I was pretty new to the area and the team. He goes out of his way to make everyone feel like part of the team and that's why he's such a great leader."

Even the veterans lean heavily on a highly competitive player for whom winning and overall team success is always the ultimate goal.

"(Alfredsson) is always trying to get better on the ice and that shows you why he's such an elite player," said forward Chris Neil, an Alfredsson teammate for nearly 600 games. "He's always looking for that extra little edge to make him competitive, (whether) it's a different skate sharpening or if it's working on his sticks, or a different lie.

"He's always making himself a better player and trying to help everyone else in the meantime. He'll help you out with your stuff, like your sticks, or whatever ... if he thinks you should be using a shorter stick he'll suggest that and everyone listens to him. It's just unbelievable how he picks up stuff."

Added longtime linemate Jason Spezza: "One of (Alfredsson's) strengths is that he picks up little things that teams are doing on power-play setup and things like that. He's always been real good at communicating in that way."


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