Senators follow Alfredsson's lead
NHL's longest-serving captain continues to inspire teammates
While it’s true that Alfredsson has never been known as an overly vocal guy, the actions of the man who is now the National Hockey League’s longest-serving captain are a daily inspiration to the players who know his is the right example to follow on and off the ice.
“I don’t think I’ve changed a lot,” said the 36-year-old Swede, who became the NHL’s senior captain when Joe Sakic retired from the Colorado Avalanche. “It all depends on how people define leaders. Personally, I think I do lead by example mostly. In games or off the ice, I try to do the best that I can and make people follow me.
“I’m not a leader that will stand and yell at you if you don’t do the things you’re supposed to do. Especially around here, it’s been not too hard to be the captain. We’ve had a lot of good guys around here that push each other.”
No wonder, then, that Alfredsson was chosen as the Senators’ nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which is presented annually to “the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”
“(Alfredsson) is not a real vocal guy but when he does say something, people listen,” said Senators head coach Cory Clouston. “He goes out and leads by example. He plays injured. He works hard and he’s a team-first guy.
“He’s the kind of guy who will sacrifice personal goals for the betterment of the team. You saw that last year when he played with the broken jaw. He’s not a real vocal guy but often, actions speak louder than words.”
Hard to believe that early in the 2006-07 season, when the Senators were struggling in the standings, there were cries for the team to trade its captain. But by the following May, chants of “Al-fie, Al-fie, Al-fie” rained down from the stands at Scotiabank Place as the proud Alfredsson willed his team to the Stanley Cup final with a playoff-leading 14 goals.
“It wasn’t hard. I was as frustrated as anybody,” Alfredsson said when asked about the rough patch at the start of what turned out to be a magical season. “The fans know the (level) of my play. I know my capabilities and I wasn’t playing up to them at all. It wasn’t something against the fans. I understood them.
“That’s why it felt even better to get things back on track and go far in the playoffs. I think the fans helped in the process as well and cheered for me even more.”
“When you can help the most is when guys are struggling, to help them get back on track,” he said. “There is a lot of pressure on anybody in professional sports and when you’ve been around for a long time, you know what you can control and what you can’t control, and that’s where you can definitely help the young guys.”
Nobody appreciates that more at the moment than 19-year-old rookie defenceman Erik Karlsson, a fellow Swede who has been staying with the Alfredsson family since the beginning of training camp.
“He’s a great guy, probably one of the best guys I’ve ever met and greatest leaders,” Karlsson said of his fellow Frolunda Indians alumnus. “Just by staying at his house, I can see how real he is. He’s a great person and one of the most respected players in this league right now … It’s been a lot of help for me that he’s here.”
Alfredsson will be 41 when his current Senators contract expires in 2013. While he’s taking it “one year at a time,” he aspires to stay healthy enough to play through to the end that deal. His passion for the game and the greatest of team goals supply the biggest motivation to make it happen.
“I know I’m (nearing) the end of my career, but I love the game and it’s fun to be around the guys,” said Alfredsson. “You can see the end coming. I’m not going to sign another contract after this one. I’m trying to get the team (going) in the right direction again and, hopefully, finish it off with some really good years.
“Being back in the playoffs and fighting for the Stanley Cup … that’s the dream.”