By Ian Mendes
GOTHENBURG, Sweden — When walking into their home for the first time, you would never know that Hasse and Margareta Alfredsson are the parents of the most famous athlete in Ottawa.
Their modest one-level place on the outskirts of Gothenburg does not display a single picture of their son Daniel playing hockey. The mantles and bookshelves are not overflowing with hockey trophies and awards from their son’s accomplished career.
So if you are wondering how Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson became one of the most modest and humble NHL superstars, look no further than his parents.
“They taught me to work hard, to be honest and to be kind to other people,” Daniel says of the values instilled by his mother and father. “Those were three really big things with them.”
The Senators trip to Sweden has allowed Daniel to reconnect with his family at a time when he is usually busy with NHL training camp back in Ottawa. It also allows a rare window into the world of a man who is known for keeping his private life out of the public eye.
When he was seven years old, Daniel wrote an essay in school saying that he wanted to be a professional hockey player. Hasse recalls the essay with a hearty laugh, saying the family did not think he really had a chance to be a professional hockey player.
“Never at all did I think it would happen,” adds Margareta. “We just thought he would play for fun and that was it.”
Daniel pursued his dream of playing professional hockey, even if his parents did not think it would become a reality. Hasse was a big part of Daniel’s early hockey career, coaching him for 10 years when he was growing up. But once Daniel was ready to make the leap to a professional team in Sweden, he no longer wanted his father behind the bench.
Hasse recalls giving up the opportunity to be an assistant coach for the Mondial club team when Daniel was ready to turn professional.
“He told me, ‘If you take that job, I’ll quit hockey.’ He didn’t want to have me back again,” explains Hasse. “Long term it was good for him. I was very hard on him as a coach.”
But Daniel is always quick to give Hasse credit for making sports such an important part of his life. He started showing an interest in soccer, tennis and hockey at the age of three. And the father was always eager to feed his young son’s passion for athletics — even if he did not have the energy for it.
“When I came home from work, Daniel was waiting to play every day. We would go right to the park and kick the soccer ball,” he remembers fondly. “Sometimes, I was so tired from work, I would go right to bed without eating after we played. But I always loved having someone waiting for me when I got home.”
Daniel, who will turn 36 in December, is the oldest of the three Alfredsson children. His sister Cecilia is one year younger than he is and his brother Henrik will turn 30 next April. Daniel was always a natural leader and like a young NHL captain in training, he looked out for his younger siblings.
“He always picked on guys that were mean to his sister,” says Hasse. “And he didn’t care if they were stronger or older than him. He was always protective of his younger siblings.”
That protection from the big brother continues to this day. Earlier this year, Daniel decided to become a spokesperson for the Royal Ottawa Hospital in their campaign for mental health awareness to show public support for his sister. Cecilia, who is pregnant with her second child, has struggled with a condition diagnosed eight years ago as generalized anxiety disorder.
Daniel also has a special place in his heart for persons with disabilities, as his mother has been in a wheelchair for nearly 30 years. A few years ago when Daniel was asked by a reporter about his knee injury, he kept the situation in perspective by recalling the story of his mother needing a wheelchair to move around. When Margareta heard that Daniel had referenced her as a source of inspiration, she nearly burst into tears.
“When I saw that, I was so proud,” she says excitedly. “Wow — he thinks of me and talks about me and he’s on the other side of the world! He really is a good boy.”
According to his father, Daniel has many of Margareta’s personality traits. While Daniel’s quick wit and sense of humour are clearly the influence of Hasse, more often than not, he takes after his mother.
“He can be very stubborn and he gets that from his mother,” Hasse says. “Daniel is also a very private person and he’s always been that way from the time he was young.”
But during this trip to Sweden, Daniel has been willing to share his personal experiences with members of the media. He took a handful of Ottawa journalists on a tour of his old area, showing off his high school and the surrounding area with great pride.
He called himself an “average” student in high school, saying that while he never missed class, he never really put in enough effort with his schoolwork either. And he thinks he went through a pretty normal teenage experience.
“I guess I had my rebellious moments for sure. I remember my mom told me to cut my hair and I said ‘No way.’ I guess now I’m finally listening,” he said with a chuckle, referring to his freshly shaved head.
In a few years, Daniel could be dealing with a handful of rebellious teenagers of his own. He and his wife Bibi are the parents of three sons under the age of six: Hugo, Louis and Fenix. Bibi and Daniel met nearly 20 years ago outside of Gothenburg, so they have strong ties to this area.
Given Daniel’s age and uncertain contract status — he could be a free agent at season’s end — some people are wondering if this trip back to Sweden is a preview of a permanent move here as early as next fall. Daniel insists he wants to play a few more years in the NHL and then he will make a decision on where his family will permanently reside.
“If I end up staying and playing in Ottawa for a few more years, then my kids are going to get older and go into the school system. And what is best for them will probably have the biggest impact on my decision.”
When you spend time Daniel Alfredsson away from the rink, you realize that family is the most important thing in his life — whether he’s speaking as a father, a brother or a son.