Daniel Alfredsson: defining a generation
Photos by Andre Gagne.
Twenty years ago, Ottawa was a capital city without any real significance in the world of professional sports. One of the city’s two pro sports teams, the Canadian Football League’s Roughriders, had just folded following a dismal 3-15 season. The other, the National Hockey League’s Ottawa Senators, was a fifth-year doormat in the midst of its first semi-respectable season.
Over the course of the next decade and a half, the Senators — thanks in no small part to the loyal contributions of then-sophomore Daniel Alfredsson — would transform the Ottawa sports landscape.
Affectionately known as “Alfie” by the Ottawa faithful, the Gothenburg, Sweden product produced at roughly a point-per-game clip during his 12-year stint (1999-2011) as captain of the Senators.
Beginning in 1995-96 with a 61-point, Calder Trophy-winning campaign for a last-place Senators team, Alfie played a central role in elevating the team’s profile — not just in Ottawa, but in the larger hockey and sports world as a whole. Through the years, the captain changed along with the Senators; from his frizzy, pre-lockout blonde locks to the shaved head of his prime, Alfredsson’s style shifted along with the roster makeup and expectations of the Senators organization.
During his captaincy, Ottawa completed its transition from middling post-expansion team to perennial contender. The city enjoyed five 100-point seasons, a President’s Trophy (2002-03) as the league’s best regular season team, and a Stanley Cup Finals appearance (2006-07). Alfredsson thrived offensively, first alongside the likes of Martin Havlat and Marian Hossa pre-lockout, then reaching new heights post-lockout with Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza.
The city’s hockey fever reached a new peak in the spring of 2007, when the Senators marched through the Eastern Conference before falling to the powerhouse Anaheim Ducks in the Stanley Cup Final. Alfredsson’s iconic overtime goal in Buffalo — one of his 14 that spring — remains a glossy image in the minds of many an Ottawa sports fan. Though the Senators came up short, falling in five games to the physical Ducks, the 06-07 team nonetheless holds a uniquely warm place in the city’s sports history.
For a generation of Ottawa sports fans, the Senators teams of the early-2000s gave them an outlet for their frustrations. A checkered football history and fledgling minor-league baseball team had given fans something to doubt, but the high-flying Senators and their playoff rivalry with the Toronto Maple Leafs — ignited in part by Alfredsson’s crushing hit on Darcy Tucker in the 2002 Eastern semi-final — were a beacon of hope.
The city mattered. Its playoff highlights were featured, not just on TSN but ESPN, and the city’s stars were the stars of their sport, period. During the team’s golden era — roughly 2001 through 2008 — no player shone as consistently as Alfie.
His career numbers alone — 1,157 points in 1,246 career games, 100 career playoff points, etc. — are impressive on a stand-alone basis. Factoring in his Olympic gold medal with Sweden (2006) and six all-star appearances, Alfie’s Hall of Fame credentials appear to be solid.
His jersey now rightfully hangs in the rafters at the Canadian Tire Centre, the number 11 never to be worn again in Senators history. His mere name invokes memories of a different era in team history; when game nights in Kanata were the only show in town, and the Sens were included in annual Stanley Cup discussions.
On Thursday night, Alfie said he will “forever be a Senator.”
But reflecting on his role as both a leader and scorer during a formative period for the franchise, one could make the argument that the Senators organization will always be Daniel Alfredsson.