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Sunday, January 29, 2012
Alfie tried to soak it all in

By Pierre LeBrun
ESPN.com

OTTAWA, Ontario -- And just in the nick of time, we are reminded what makes this game so special at times.

We interrupt your hockey news cycle dominated by concussions, a notable neck injury, the seemingly unending saga in Phoenix, a White House snub and the threat of a lockout to bring you the Great Daniel Alfredsson Love-In, aka, the 2012 NHL All-Star weekend.

A goal post short of yanking MVP honors from Marian Gaborik, Alfredsson still stole the spotlight Sunday, his two-goal performance capping an emotional four days that saw Canada's capital pour its heart out for the 39-year-old Ottawa Senators captain.

"It's been surreal, it's almost like you're walking on Cloud 9,'' Alfredsson said Sunday evening. "It's been almost overwhelming, to be honest.''

In a time when it's so darn rare to see a pro athlete stay with one team, fans having to change their jerseys way too often for their liking, No. 11 has been here from the day the Senators nabbed him with the 133rd overall pick in the sixth round of the 1994 NHL entry draft.

There's a picture hanging on a hallway wall in this rink of that boyish-looking Alfredsson capturing the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year in 1995-96. His impact was immediate and, as it turns out, very much long lasting.

He has been the one constant in the history of this franchise. And through it all, he's done it with utmost class and humility. He mirrors Nicklas Lidstrom and Teemu Selanne in that way, players with all-world skill and work ethic but, above all, having the kind of humble demeanor that effects a dressing room like nothing else can.

"You saw the respect the other players had for Alfie, how they were trying to get him the puck for his third goal today,'' fellow Ottawa all-star Jason Spezza said. "The way guys all acknowledged what he's done in his career … when you see a guy put so much time into one team and have so much success, hockey is a really respectful game, and guys really respect what Alfie has done in his career. So this was an amazing weekend to be a part of and see all the accolades.''

It's all a bit too much really, said Alfredsson, who at times awkwardly accepted the fans' heartfelt ovations in player introductions Saturday night before the skills event and Sunday afternoon before his team was beaten 12-9 by Team Chara.

"It's just a whole ego weekend, pretty much,'' Alfredsson said, laughing.

The familiar chants of "Alfie, Alfie'' cascaded down from the Scotiabank Place rafters when he scored twice within 1:31 of the second period. In a game that quickly settled into your usual no-hit, half-speed All-Star affair, it was easily the most electric moment of the game.

"I was a little surprised'' at the reaction of the fans, countryman Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks said. "I've never been part of a reception like that where a guy has been there for a long time. I didn't know how much they really appreciated him here, so it was fun to be a part of it."

Daniel Alfredsson
The admiration and adulation for Daniel Alfredsson was obvious during All-Star weekend in 2012.

"It was an honor for both of us to play with him today,'' added Sedin, referring to him and his brother, Daniel.

You get moments like this when fans sense the end is near for their beloved star. Oh, he might play another year, he won't decide until after the season -- but either way there's not much time left to enjoy the winger's presence on the ice. And that explained a large part of what happened here this weekend. Alfredsson promised himself he would try to soak it all in.

"You can never dream of anything like this," Alfredsson said. "You don't really know how to embrace it, really. I don't think, until tonight when the kids go to bed, you can kind of sit and relax. I'm sure I'll be dead tired, but take it all in and realize that this is something that not everybody gets to experience. I don't know if I deserve it or not, but it's definitely humbling.''

What it reaffirmed, as if there was any doubt, was that Alfredsson has a place waiting for him in the organization's front office if he chooses to continue his association with the Senators past his playing days.

Owner Eugene Melnyk and GM Bryan Murray have pretty much told him that.

"I've thought about it a lot and I haven't come up with a decision," said Alfredsson, allowing us a glimpse into his plans. "I haven't discussed with Eugene or Bryan about what possibly I could do. I've been around hockey my whole life, definitely it's something that interests me, there's no question. What role? I have no idea. I guess I'll have to wait and see. I'm sure I'd love to try it. At what level and what position? I don't know. I've got four kids at home, how much time do I want to put into it? And I know if I start by saying, 'I'm just going to go in and be a consultant or whatever,' I can't do anything half-way. I know exactly how it's going to end up. I have to talk to my wife and see what she thinks. But it would be very interesting.''

Future GM of the Senators? If the fans in these parts had their way, that would be a done deal.

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.