OTTAWA — Through the Ottawa Senators 25-year history no one has made more of an impact than Daniel Alfredsson.
The Senators will honour Alfredsson by raising his No. 11 to the rafters, making him the first player to have his jersey retired by the organization with a special ceremony before Thursday night’s game against the Detroit Red Wings.
The 44-year-old spent 17 seasons with the Senators, 13 as captain, and was instrumental in bringing the franchise from a struggling expansion team to a respectable, competitive force.
“For me his jersey is already up there as he’s had such an impact on this organization and this franchise,” said Chris Neil, who played alongside Alfredsson for 11 years. “He always strived to get better and make everyone else better both on and off the ice. He was always the hardest working guy on our team and that rubbed off and he always wanted to try and make everyone around him better and he had that capability.”
Alfredsson, a native of Goteborg, Sweden, is undoubtedly the face of the Senators franchise and not even a contract dispute in 2013 that ultimately led to him signing with Detroit can tarnish his impeccable image.
Alfredsson played one season in Detroit before signing a one-day contract with the Senators so he could retire in Ottawa.
Through 18 NHL seasons Alfredsson played 1246 games, had 444 goals and 713 assists. To this day Alfredsson remains the Senators all-time leader in goals (426), assists (682) and points (1108).
The Senators still have a number of active players who had the opportunity to play alongside Alfredsson, but for Mark Borowiecki being in his presence was almost magical.
“I was really star struck at first, I’m not going to lie,” said Borowiecki, an Ottawa native. “I remember my first NHL game in San Jose, I was timid and I was star struck. He was a guy I idolized since he was drafted.”
Borowiecki grew up just a few minutes away from Canadian Tire Centre and was a big Senators and Alfredsson fan. On Wednesday he admitted he still has No. 11’s rookie card in his bedroom at his parent’s house.
“It’s pretty special and pretty cool for a guy like me to see a lot of Alfie’s bigger moments in Sens history,” said the 27-year-old. “I remember watching a couple of big goals against Buffalo and it’s something I’ll never forget. It’s pretty cool for Ottawa guys to see.”
As impressive as Alfredsson’s performance was on the ice his work in the community is what endeared him to many. While active with a number of charities, including the Boys & Girls Club, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and the Ottawa Senators Foundation, it was his commitment to mental health that resonated most.
At a time when few wanted to openly discuss the impact of mental health Alfredsson stepped forward and put a very public face on what was a private issue.
In June 2008 Alfredsson offered to lead a public awareness campaign with the tagline “You Know Who I Am” designed to facilitate open conversations about mental illness and inspire community support.
In comparison to many professional athletes Alfredsson didn’t relish being in the spotlight, but with a sister who personally struggled with an anxiety disorder he understood the impact his contribution could have for the Royal Ottawa Hospital.
“He set a great example for a lot of us guys coming up showing that’s the way a professional athlete should handle himself,” Borowiecki said. “There shouldn’t be any strange stuff that draws attention to yourself. There’s no need to worry about a brand or anything like that. He was always just a consummate leader, consummate professional and someone I definitely look up to.”
Notes: The Senators will be without Zack Smith for at least the next two games as he’s suffering from an abdominal strain. G Mike Condon will get the start Thursday.