Senators captain grows along with all-star game
Alfredsson remembers making 'shy' first appearance as a rookie at 1996 showcase
|Senators teammates Jason Spezza (left) and Daniel Alfredsson shared the all-star spotlight at the 2008 game in Atlanta.
Daniel Alfredsson, the captain of the Ottawa Senators and a man commissioner Gary Bettman calls one of the National Hockey League's "great ambassadors on and off the ice."
Speaking at a luncheon held earlier today at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, Alfredsson smiled as he recalled his first of five NHL all-star game appearances. He was a quiet 23-year-old rookie from Sweden who arrived at the FleetCenter in Boston for the 1996 mid-season classic, not entirely comfortable with the native language spoken all around him.
Not only that, Alfredsson found himself sharing a dressing room with such NHL luminaries at Mario Lemieux, Mark Messier, Jaromir Jagr and Martin Brodeur, a who's who of future Hall of Famers.
"That was the Daniel Alfredsson who didn't speak very much," he said. "I was very shy. It was my rookie year and most of the stars that were on the team were way up there in my estimation. My English was okay at the time but not great, so I didn’t speak very much. All in all, it was an eye-opening experience and I was able to bring my parents as well. I had a great time."
Contrast that to his most recent all-star outing two years ago in Atlanta. Alfredsson was the unquestioned leader of a Senators contingent at Philips Arena that included linemate Jason Spezza and then-Ottawa head coach John Paddock, who was behind the Eastern Conference bench for that game.
But while others might consider an all-star appearance old hat the fifth time around, Alfredsson savours every one of his chances to rub shoulders with the game's greats. And he's clearly established himself as being worthy of such company.
"Atlanta was my last one," Alfredsson said during a hot-stove session at the conclusion of the luncheon, which was held on the heels of the announcement that Ottawa will play host to the 2012 all-star affair. "I was a little bit more of a veteran and I'd been around the league for a few years. The biggest thing that stands out is that it's just a great feeling mixing with the other elite players in the league, sharing stories and checking their sticks and equipment. It’s a lot of fun and we enjoy it. It’s a great experience for everyone involved."
"That would be unbelievable," he said. "But the all-star game is not something you just get free access to — you've got to earn it to get there. I'd love to be a part of it but I'm sure I will be a part of it, even if I'm not playing in the game."
That season will also mark the 20th anniversary of the Senators' return to a league that had to fight to maintain the franchise's survival in 2003, when it was forced into bankruptcy. But current team owner Eugene Melnyk stepped in to buy the team and ensure it would stay in the nation's capital.
"From a business but more emotional standpoint, the league had a lot invested in this franchise," Bettman told the luncheon audience. "The history was kind of interesting and scary at some points. Since we always believed in this team and this market, I thought what better way to commemorate 20 years of this franchise and more importantly, what has happened to this franchise under Eugene’s ownership than to say, let’s bring the NHL family together, let’s bring it to the fans in Ottawa and let’s have a great event. And that’s why we’re here."
Alfredsson has no doubt the city will embrace the all-star experience.
"I think it’s going to be unbelievable," he said. "We’re not a big market but when we get an event like this, we want to make sure we make the city proud and we want to show that we’re the best hockey city in the world. We’ll put on a great show.
"People around the city are going to rally around it and make sure it becomes a great event for sponsors and for players and everybody involved. I think it’s going to be something special for us."