OTTAWA — Months after the announcement, Daniel Alfredsson says it is still “surreal” to realize he is going into the Hockey Hall of Fame next month.
That’s fitting, because for reporters at the Canadian Tire Centre who have been watching the graceful Swede since he joined the Ottawa Senators as a rookie in 1995, it’s surreal for us to see Alfie back in the fold. Speaking at a microphone inside the CTC, where he has been a stranger in recent seasons. Cracking wise with that dry, understated humour.
Asked if his rookie self could have imagined this Hall of Fame career, Alfredsson said: “yeah, I underachieved.” Of course he was kidding.
And then he told us the unvarnished truth. The insanity of that first season.
“It was terrible around the team,” Alfredsson says. “We had three coaches and two GMs my first year.”
At the outset of the 1995-96 NHL season, Alfie figured if he got two to three years in the league, that would be the best-case scenario. Then, he’d return home to Sweden.
“By Christmas (of ’95), I thought – nine months, that would be it,” he says. “There was so much going on with the team and I wanted to go home.”
You know the rest of the story. In January 1996, the Senators moved from the tiny Civic Centre out to the Palladium in Kanata. Jacques Martin became head coach, hired by new GM Pierre Gauthier. The team stabilized and Alfredsson won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.
That “nine-month” career he envisioned turned into an 18-year, Hall of Fame career and 17 of those seasons were with Ottawa.
“Throughout my career, there’s times where you think – you’re going to retire,” Alfredsson says. “And other times where it’s like – I can keep playing forever.”
Alfredsson was speaking at one of those pre-HHOF ceremony events, getting fitted for his Hall of Fame jacket in front of onlooking media and cameras.
Before the fitting, we were able, again, to take the measure of the man, who graced our presence for nearly two decades, reaching heights, including the 2007 Stanley Cup Final, that the current group of Senators wants to match and exceed.
“We were right there with Anaheim,” Alfredsson laments, about the ’07 Final, which Ottawa lost in five games to the Ducks, after falling into an 0-2 hole in California. “We had a chance to win Game 1, I think, looking back. But that’s sports.” Other close calls came in 2003 and ‘06.
He called it a great honour to reach the Hall of Fame with only four Swedes ahead of him (he will be joined next month by fellow Swedes Henrik and Daniel Sedin plus goaltender Roberto Luongo). His induction headlines played bigger in Canada than in Sweden, where it was “news for a day,” Alfie says, noting that we value hockey history a bit more over here. In Sweden, when you are done playing, you’re done, he says.
Asked how he approached being eligible for the Hall since 2017 – Low key? High expectations? – only to have to wait year after year until 2022, Alfredsson quipped: “I tried everything.”
Initially, he paid close attention to the announcement. Some years he thought – this is it! Some years he put it out of his mind. This year, he was paying attention as the online campaign built, and the Senators organization got behind the bid for the first time, and yet, he was just sitting around with some friends in his backyard in Sweden, thinking, oh well, not this year – and that’s when the call came.
His life changed with that phone call, and yet day to day, it’s fairly normal with wife Bibi and their four boys, Hugo, Loui, Fenix and William Erik. Around that normalcy, is the buildup to the Hall of Fame induction Nov. 14 in Toronto. Arrangements to be made, a speech to write.
Alfredsson has asked some close friends and advisers to help him write the speech, which currently has a framework, but is not yet completed. Alfie lets his writers know the elements he wants in, and they make it happen.
“We’ve got a couple of weeks here to fine-tune it, but I’m comfortable where I’m at right now,” Alfredsson says.
There will be hockey
The Hall of Fame weekend includes a ‘Legends’ game on Nov. 13. Alfredsson says he has been on skates a bit, including as a coach for his kids’ teams, and hopes to skate a bit more next week in preparation for the fun alumni event.
“I’m looking forward to playing the game,” he says. “I feel comfortable enough.”
He is comfortable again, too, around the CTC now that he has been welcomed home by the new era of the team after being estranged for several years.
Alfredsson enjoyed being at the Senators’ home opener against the Boston Bruins, watching the Sens players limber up and especially the “energy” emanating from the group. His own legacy, he says, when asked about it, is probably his willingness to work hard.
The nuances of the home rink, the very smell of the place, allow for reflection more easily now that No. 11 is more than a jersey hanging from the rafters. He’s back, in the flesh.
“It doesn’t change anything,” Alfredsson says, about returning to the CTC at age 49, “it’s just a good feeling. There are so many memories for me, especially when you walk in the hallway, see some of the players preparing for a game and you know what they’re going through.
“It’s important not just to be associated (with the Senators),” Alfie adds, “but to be in this relationship. I think that’s what I like the most. If I want to come by for a day to watch practice, take my kids to watch practice, I’m welcome to do that. I think that’s what matters the most.”