Daniel Alfredsson first set foot in the Ottawa Senators organization in 1995. At that time, not even “Alfie” himself thought that he would make his case in the NHL.
But over two decades later, on December 29, 2016, the sixth-round draft pick from the 1994 NHL Entry Draft saw his very own Senators jersey raised to the rafters before the game against Detroit Red Wings at the Canadian Tire Centre. There, the number 11 will age but never fade, as he will forever be remembered for his services over an exceptional hockey career.
This is the long story of how Alfredsson came out of nowhere to leave his grand mark on the game, through the good times and the bad, as told by #11 himself.
The following text is translated from a Swedish article published on Hockeysverige.se. For the full interview, read the book “Old School Hockey 3”, which was written in Swedish by hockey journalist Ronnie Rönnkvist and available for purchase online.
Daniel Alfredsson chose to quit playing hockey after the 2013-14 season. He was 41-years old. Now, he can look back at a career that defines him as one of the greatest Swedish hockey players of all time, after captaining the Ottawa Senators in the NHL for 13 seasons. Add to the fact that he was a part of the 2006 Swedish Olympics team that won the gold medal in Turin.
But it all began in Göteborgs IK.
“To be honest, I don’t even remember how I started playing hockey back home”, Alfredsson says, laughing, when we interview him from his home in the outskirts of Detroit.
During his childhood, he played in Göteborgs IK, but before Alfredsson would wind up in Västra Frölunda, where he got his national breakthrough, he did a few seasons in Mölndal. In the 1990-91 season, Alfredsson only got three regular season games, but in the qualification up to Elitserien (now called the SHL), he answered with four goals and a total of eight points in eight games. The following season, he was an established player in Mölndal’s senior team. In 32 games he scored twelve goals and a total of 20 points.
There was a rookie camp for one week, and I knew nobody there, which made me extra nervous. The fact that I had forgotten my skates back in Sweden didn’t help.
For the 1992-93 season, Alfredsson made it to Elitserien under the leadership of coaches Leif Boork and Christer Kellgren after moving to Västra Frölunda.
“I was a bit of a, maybe not an unpolished diamond but something like that. I had a lot of knowledge, but my tactical ability first didn’t fit into Boork’s system at all. Rather than that, I was a player who mostly went with my intuition. Looking back at the time in Mölndal, they allowed me to play that way, which made me develop a lot there. I wasn’t handcuffed like a player who only follows game play orders. I just got to play hockey and solve situations in my way.”
“When I later learned the tactics of the game, it got to a good mix and that was the point where things really started to happen.”
Surprised to Stay
After a few successful years in Västra Frölunda in Elitserien, the national team coach Curt Lundmark selected Daniel Alfredsson to represent the Three Crowns for the 1995 World Championships in Stockholm. And in the fall of 1996, Alfredsson got the opportunity to play the World Cup. Sweden’s new coach Kent Forsberg then placed him on an offensive line with Peter Forsberg and Johan Garpenlöv.
“After all, it was still the national team and [the World Cup ] didn’t feel bigger than the World Championships even though it was a tougher group to enter.”
You had played a full season for Ottawa Senators when you played the World Cup, but when did you make the decision to go over to the NHL?
“It was just after the World Championships in 2005. I had some talks with Frölunda and they tried to make me stay by changing my contract, but I wanted to face my next challenge, which was the NHL – to try to get in the best league in the world.”
Was there any hesitation about going there?
“No, there wasn’t. If it was anything I doubted, it was for how long I would stay over there. If I wouldn’t make it, I knew that I could come back home. I also felt that I had nothing to loose.”
Could you even dream of that you would stay in the NHL for such a long time?
“No. What I thought was that I maybe could stay for two or three seasons. If I had done that, that would have been good”, Daniel Alfredsson laughs and continues:
“I had no thoughts that it would end up like it did. I also think that I never tried to see that far ahead, but instead to stay in the present for as long as possible. I’ve always been that way, really. It was just a mindset of, ‘now I will go over there and give it a shot and we will see how it goes’. It wasn’t on the map that it would end up with as many years (18) as it did over here.”
Forgot His Skates
When Daniel Alfredsson got over to Ottawa before the 1995-96 season, he was the only Swede in the team, but he never saw that as a big problem. Even though he was a bit nervous.
“Of course, I was nervous. When I had landed they came to meet me at the airport and drove me to a hotel. To begin with, there was a rookie camp for one week, and I knew nobody there, which made me extra nervous. The fact that I had forgotten my skates back in Sweden didn’t help”, Alfredsson laughs.
“At the same time it was exciting, and it is something special with hockey people. When you enter a team, the people that have been there for a while usually take good care of the new ones. I felt that right away. Especially Martin Straka took good care of me already during the rookie camp and helped me a lot. He was also there for the big camp.”
How did you solve the thing with the skates?
“I had to borrow a pair of used ones during the rookie camp, and they were two sizes too big. There wasn’t much else to do.”
Calder Trophy Winner
Daniel Alfredsson’s first year in Ottawa was an instant success for him personally. In 82 games, the 23-year-old at the time scored 26 goals and a total of 61 points. He later won the Calder Trophy (best rookie of the year in the NHL).
If you have the privilege to be in a club for that long, and on top of that to be in Ottawa where hockey is the only big sport, you build a relationship with the fans and the people in the city.
But for the team, it didn’t flow quite as smoothly, as they ended the season at the bottom of the league standings.
“That was a very messy season. It was a bit of the same thing when I got to Ottawa as when I got to Frölunda, and I just tried to play hockey while a lot of things happened in the organization. I had three different coaches and two different general managers during my first year. We didn’t win many games, but looking back at it, I never felt that the team itself was messy. The players that had been in the NHL and the team before took good care of me, especially through tough and frustrating times when we lost most of our games.”
“One of the guys, Sean Hill, told me: ‘Alfie, the experience that you’ve had this year, you will never have to go through again.’ This is something that I remember well. We had a good attitude even though we were that bad. I learned a whole lot from that season, got to play many games and in every situation. Looking back at it now, it was the perfect start for the rest of my career.”
Did you feel pressure for your second year, since you had just got the Calder Trophy?
“No, not like I had to deliver more than before. You have to deliver each season, regardless of what level you play at or what league you are in, and you only try to improve. This I have to work on, and so on. I was never worried that it would go bad or worse for me.”
Given the “C”
In the 1999-00 season, Daniel Alfredsson got a ‘C’ on his chest as a sign of becoming the captain of the Ottawa Senators, a role that he kept up until his move to Detroit in 2013.
“In retrospect, I think that was an important event for the development of my career. After that, I perhaps felt an even bigger responsibility towards the team, and that role is not something you adapt to and master right away. At least I dod feel that way, and the captaincy was something I grew into.”
“I had some trouble in the beginning when I sometimes wanted too much. Over the years I learned to deal with that as well. Also, it’s an honorable designation for a European player to be selected as captain of a Canadian team. It was truly exciting and motivating to get that assignment.”
Tough Playoff Times
In 2002-03, the Ottawa Senators had established themselves as one of the best teams in the league. They moved on to the conference semi-finals of the Stanley Cup playoffs but fell short against the New Jersey Devils.
“When we lost that seventh, decisive game against New Jersey at home, it was one of the heaviest losses I had experienced in Ottawa. It felt like we had a good chance to go all the way.”
I did seven points in Tampa once, but I can’t say that I played very good in that game.
Four years later, Ottawa Senators took another step in the right direction. The team reached the Stanley Cup final against Anaheim Ducks, who won the game series with 4–1. Alfredsson ended up as the top scoring player of the playoffs with 14 goals and 22 points in 20 games.
“That was a bit different from 2003. We had a better team in 2007 with more offense. The thing that perhaps was missing, which could have helped us, was some additional weight among the players, but we had a really good team. In regards of talent, that was probably the best team in all my years there.”
The season prior to that, in 2005-06, Daniel Alfredsson was noted for his top scoring performance in the NHL, when he stood for 43 goals and a total of 103 points in 77 games. With that, he placed himself at fifth place in the league’s points leaderboard, with as many points as his teammate Dany Heatly.
“This was after the lockout season. NHL had changed the rules a bit to get more skill in the game, and now charged more penalties for holdings, hookings and things like that. Initially, there were more powerplays than what’s normal. I think that helped me reach the 100 point mark. And if you get a good start to your season, which I did, that also helps. But then again, we had amazing chemistry, Heatly, myself and (Jason) Spezza. It went really well for me and my line that season.
Was it a hunt to reach 100 points when you closed in on that mark?
“Yes, of course. If you’re that close, you really want to achieve it. And Heatly as well finished with 103 points that same season, and he scored 50 goals. We had some extra motivation, the both of us, to get more than 100 points.”
Apart from your last season in the NHL, you’ve always played for the Ottawa Senators. What have the Senators meant to you over the years?
“The club, the organization, and the city have been tremendously important for me. If you have the privilege to be in a club for that long, and on top of that to be in Ottawa where hockey is the only big sport, you build a relationship with the fans and the people in the city. Even if I don’t know them, the way they cheer for the team and also appreciate what I do outside of hockey makes it a special relationship. I was also the only one remaining from when I came to the team to when I left.”
Did a lot of people approach you to talk about hockey?
“Not to talk about hockey in that way. It was more of people just saying hi or wanting to shake hands. I think that most hockey players recognize that when they come to Canada, that people know the league. As a famous hockey player you can’t really be out anonymously, but for me, that’s positive in 99.9 percent of the time.”
What’s your strongest memory from the years as a player in Ottawa?
“There’s a few of them. The first NHL game at home against Buffalo. My second year over there when we made it to the playoffs for the first time. And it was very special when we won a playoff series for the first time. That was at home against New Jersey. And then, of course, the Stanley Cup final. All of them are really cool memories that will stay with me forever.”
Your best game in the NHL?
“Good question… I did seven points in Tampa once, but I can’t say that I played very good in that game.”
Introducing Erik Karlsson
Daniel Alfredsson left the Ottawa Senators in 2013 to finish his NHL career with a season for the Detroit Red Wings.
“The number one reason that I chose to leave was that I wanted a new mission, to try something new and challenge myself both on and off the ice. When you come to a new team, you have to prove yourself again. Meanwhile, it was a tough challenge for my family to develop and grow as a family.”
When you left as the team captain in Ottawa, another Swede, Erik Karlsson, took over that role. What’s your take on the leadership that he has shown during his years as a captain?
“He does it really well and he’s one of the biggest talents that we’ve ever seen in Sweden. Despite the fact that he’s young, he has done so many things and only gets better and better in a lot of aspects for every year. It’s fun now that I’m back in Ottawa for work, to witness Erik from a closer distance.”
In the beginning, you were a father figure for Erik Karlsson, weren’t you?
“Yeah, it got to something like that. He was very young when he came here and we didn’t know each other from before, but we soon found a friendship between us even though there’s a big age difference there.”
“That’s also what’s so wonderful about hockey. As you get older, there are always new, young people coming in with energy and seeing all the possibilities in the world. It’s fun to be around people like that and Erik is truly a positive person who spreads energy all around him.”
Daniel, you haven’t ended it with hockey quite yet. Tell us.
“Today I work for the Ottawa Senators again as a senior adviser. I spend a lot of time in hockey rinks due to my position, more so than I did as a player.”
“And then, of course, I have four boys, and three of them play hockey.”