Gracious Alfredsson gives thanks to family, everyone who shaped his HOF career

Former Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings player Daniel Alfredsson, of Sweden, poses wearing his ring after a ceremony to celebrate the latest inductees into the Hockey Hall of Fame. (Chris Young/CP)

When he was in Ottawa for Daniel Alfredsson’s 1,000th game in the NHL, Hasse Alfredsson said something profound about his son. 

“The biggest thing you’re proud of is when you see a son always standing on his feet, who doesn’t climb too high,” Hasse said. “If you climb too high, you fall too hard. He’s always staying on the ground. That’s good.”

This may be the essence of Daniel Alfredsson – his ability to soar to the heights while somehow keeping his feet planted on terra firma. A seemingly ordinary guy who did extraordinary things. 

Monday, the soft-spoken native of Gothenburg, Sweden joined the all-time greats of the game – inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on an evening with a decidedly Tre Kronor theme. Only four Swedish players had been previously inducted, but the number quickly swelled to seven this year with the arrival at 30 Yonge St. of Alfredsson plus twin brothers Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Goaltender Roberto Luongo, female Finnish star Riika Sallinen and builder Herb Carnegie rounded out the inductions. 

Alfredsson, the first modern day Senators player to be inducted, gave an elegant, gracious speech that was overflowing with gratitude. 

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Some of his most poignant thanks involved his mother ‘Eta,’ former Senators coach and GM Bryan Murray and legendary Swedish defenceman Borje Salming, who is battling ALS.

Margareta Alfredsson suffered through multiple sclerosis for much of her life and passed away last year. Alfie marveled at her ability to enjoy life and family despite myriad physical challenges. Her determination and drive was very much apparent in the steel-blue eyes of her son. 

“Our mom, without a doubt, was the strongest and toughest Alfredsson,” Alfredsson said of his mother. “And I’ve been told I inherited a bit of that stubbornness. 

“Tough, stubborn, loving – I miss you so very much.”

As Alfredsson spoke, the camera panned to the Alfredsson family and brother Henric was visibly weeping with emotion. Alfie referred to his wife, Bibbi, the mother of their four boys – Hugo, Louis, Fenix and William, as a shoo-in for the “mom and wife Hall of Fame.”

Alfredsson thanked father Hasse for always being there and teaching all manner of sports, not just hockey. He gave a nod to his former youth coaches, who made sports fun and allowed him to be creative. 

“I was drafted at the age of 21 in the 6th round and some might say if I had focused solely on hockey, I might have been drafted earlier,” Alfredsson said. “But I believe that playing multiple sports while growing up is what made my career possible. 

“The importance of a safe, positive, fun, inclusive environment cannot be overstated,” he added. 

Many of Alfredsson’s former teammates were in the audience, including Jason Spezza, Chris Phillips, Wade Redden and Chris Neil. He gave a shout out to some early teammates, including former captain Randy Cunneyworth, “a pro’s pro.” And Marty Straka taught a homesick rookie Alfredsson about the wonder of phone cards for making European calls. 

Coaches Rick Bowness, Jacques Martin and Bryan Murray helped shape his Hall of Fame career. Alfredsson called the late Murray “the best bench coach I ever had” and said he dearly misses Murray and their talks about life and hockey. Murray died of cancer in 2017. 

“He gave us the confidence to believe that a team from Ottawa was as good as any team in the league,” Alfredsson said, who didn’t forget to thank the Senators medical and training staff. 

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Early in his address, Alfredsson paid tribute to Salming, the ailing Maple Leafs warrior who was feted before the Hockey Night In Canada game on Saturday. Alfredsson played against the great defenceman in his first year in the Swedish Elite League. 

“He’s such a legend that I found myself watching him intently – ‘The King’ – in warmups, and I just couldn’t take my eyes off him for the whole warmup. I barely took a shot. Thank you, Borje, for everything you did for all the Swedish players who followed in your footsteps. You’re a true trailblazer.”

Naturally, Alfredsson had some love for the city of Ottawa he now calls home. He thanked fans for years of support. 

“Ottawa’s been the perfect place for me to live, work and raise my family,” Alfredsson said. “And it still gives me goosebumps to enter the arena and be reminded of all the great memories we created there.”

Alfredsson, 49, already has the Key to the City of Ottawa, a place in the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame, an honorary Doctor of Laws from Carleton University – and now a plaque in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Not bad for an unassuming kid from the west coast of Sweden. 

Alfie, delightful enigma

No one has ever been able to categorize, pigeon-hole, Alfredsson. And who would want to? 
He was modest, yet had flair – with his game and his hair. 
He spoke softly but could be shockingly frank. 
A clean player who never exceeded 50 PIM in a season, he was fierce when he had to be (ask Darcy Tucker). 
Modest in stature, too, at 5-10, 195 pounds, but with lower body strength that left teammates in awe (they credited his big trunk). 
Alfie’s ability to bounce back ahead of schedule from injury, whether concussion, hip flexor or knee, was wolverine-like. 

As a hockey player, Alfie was no child prodigy. In his early years he didn’t even play forward. He started as a defenceman, before finding his place on the right wing. In Sweden, he often practiced on outdoor ice and found the practices more fun than the games. Arriving in North America, he was surprised to find out that players here derided practice as tedious. 

After Senators practices, Alfredsson played a ritual game of ‘keepaway’ with a teammate (often Mike Fisher or Chris Neil). Coaches sometimes had to drag Alfie off the ice, wanting him fresh for the games.

Incredibly, this man who spent 17 seasons with the Senators (one with Detroit) came close to never coming to Ottawa. 

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When he was drafted by the Senators in 1994, in the sixth round (their SECOND pick of the sixth round), 133rd overall, scout John Ferguson had to push hard to convince the Ottawa draft team to take this longshot. The Sens had already selected Czechs Radek Bonk and Stan Neckar in this draft and one member of the management group railed against the Alfie pitch: “Not another (bleeping) Euro,” he said, approximately. 

As it turned out, of course, Alfredsson was not just another European player. Despite quick success as a rookie, Alfredsson had arrived with modest goals and limited knowledge of the NHL. NHL games weren’t prevalent on Swedish TV in those days, and when someone told him he’d been drafted by Ottawa, he didn’t really know what that meant. As a boy, his hockey dreams were limited to playing for the national team in a world championship, a goal he achieved in 1995 – the Swedes won a silver medal and Alfie scored the overtime winner against Canada in the game that sent Sweden to the final against Finland. 

Years later, he told us many times he figured he’d play a year or two in the NHL and return to Sweden. Having Dave Allison as his head coach, after Rick Bowness was fired, nearly shortened Alfredsson’s career expectations even more. 

But then coach Jacques Martin arrived on the scene, the Senators moved into the new Palladium (now the Canadian Tire Centre) in January of 1996 and the team improved while Alfredsson was finishing up a Calder Trophy season. He never looked back. 

Behind the strength of the ‘Pizza Line’ of Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Alfredsson, the Senators were contenders for years to come and reached the Stanley Cup final in 2007. 

Asked to define his legacy in the game, Alfredsson says that is up to others to assess. But he feels that his work ethic was the key to his success. He had the skill of a star but gave the effort of a third line checker. 

“I was good at working hard,” Alfie says. “It wasn’t easy, but it didn’t feel as much of a chore as it sounds like.”

His work with mental health initiatives, sparked by his personal experience with sister Cecelia’s anxiety disorder, augments his hockey legacy. Alfredsson was the celebrity face of the 2008 ‘You Know Who I Am’ campaign of the Royal Ottawa Hospital. 

Captaincy questioned

Few players endured more ups and downs with a franchise. Alfredsson’s Senators survived bankruptcy challenges, frequent ownership and management changes and playoff failures that would fall on the shoulders of the captain who succeeded Yashin in 1999. 

Seems beyond belief, now, but in the prime of his career, Alfredsson’s leadership was questioned by management after a 2001 playoff loss to the Maple Leafs and it was unclear if he would remain captain. He missed training camp that fall and only returned with a makeshift, one-year contract worth $3 million. 

Several years later, Alfredsson bore the brunt of a 2006 playoff series loss to the Buffalo Sabres, with Jason Pominville beating Alfie to score the deciding goal. Fans were down on their captain but in his fashion, Alfie rebounded with a monster season and scored the series clinching goal against the Sabres – Ottawa’s ticket to the Cup final. Redemption complete. 

The Senators have had their share of star players, from Marian Hossa and Spezza to Redden and Erik Karlsson. Some had more talent than Alfredsson but none captured the imagination of fans as Alfie did. He is the one true franchise icon. 

And their first Hall of Famer. The wait is over, Alfie. 

Daniel Alfredsson Player Profile

Born: Dec 11, 1972 (age 49) in Gothenburg, Sweden
NHL career: 1,246 GP | 444 G | 713 A | 1,157 PTS | +155
NHL seasons: 17
Senators captain: 13 seasons
Playoff points: 100
20-goal seasons: 13
Senators franchise leader: Goals (426), Assists (682), Points (1,108)
Stanley Cup finals: 1, 2007
Olympic Games:
Olympic gold: 2006 (Alfredsson led Sweden in scoring with 10 points)
World Championships: 7 (two silver medals, two bronze)
Fun fact: Alfredsson was the first NHL player to score a shootout goal when the format was introduced in 2005. It came on Oct. 5, 2005, against Ed Balfour of the Maple Leafs and is noted in the Guinness World Book of Records.

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