- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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OTTAWA, Ontario -- About two hours before puck drop, a nervous Daniel Alfredsson stopped to speak to a few reporters just outside the visitors' dressing room.
Anything to get his mind off the game, perhaps. Asked how he hoped it would go, the longtime Ottawa Senators captain said he hoped it would be a nice moment pregame, but then also hoped the fans would focus their energies on cheering the home squad once the puck dropped.
He got his wish.
Treated to an emotional pregame ovation triggered by a video tribute, Alfredsson was also booed later in the game while his former team, the Senators, were en route to another defeat, this time 4-2 to Alfredsson's visiting Detroit Red Wings.
A perfect night for Alfredsson. Win or lose though, Alfredsson said, he won't ever forget the pregame moment. Whatever anger or bitterness was felt by the Ottawa fan base last summer when he stunned the hockey world by bolting to Detroit, those hearts had all been healed.
"Alfie, Alfie, Alfie," the crowd chanted while a video showed his many moments in a Senators' uniform.
"That video was pretty cool to watch," Wings blueliner Niklas Kronwall said. "It was emotional for us, imagine how he felt.''
Almost overwhelmed is how he felt.
"It's hard to describe," Alfredsson said. "How do you feel you deserve to be cheered on like that after all you do is play hockey? It's kind of surreal at times to have that feeling. But it's a mutual feeling. I definitely respect this city, this team, as well. I thought once the puck dropped, the crowd also did the right thing by cheering on their team."
And booing him later in the game on a few occasions.
"That's good," Alfredsson said. "They should stick up for their team, and that's what they're doing."
The tribute was just over two minutes in duration and Alfredsson had no interest in prolonging it, waiving over Senators players to center ice for the opening faceoff when he felt it was enough. He didn't want to drag it out, as emotional as it was.
Classy, as always, that's Alfredsson.
Normally, the unspoken custom for players like Alfredsson on these types of nights is to put money on the board in the dressing room before the game, to further fuel teammates for a big performance. Not on this night. Alfredsson apparently decided against it this time, having put money on the board in their first game Oct. 23 in Detroit and going down 6-1 to the visiting Senators.
Hockey players being the superstitious lot they are, Alfredsson decided to switch it up.
Not that he needed to put money on the board. His Red Wings teammates were plenty motivated for him.
"He was pretty fired up, he was really fired up," Detroit winger Daniel Cleary said. "As a team we all knew how important it was to win. Nothing needs to be said in times like that."
Besides, the Wings had lost 4-2 to Ottawa at Joe Louis Arena Nov. 23 (with Alfredsson not playing due to a groin injury) so going down three games in a row to Alfredsson's former team wasn't an option on this night.
"It was important for our team. We had dropped the ball the first time we played against them we played poorly," Wings head coach Mike Babcock said. "The second time we lost our discipline. So it was important to respond here today, for Alfie and for the guys. The guys care about him, they wanted him to have a big night here. It was a great tribute to him at the start from the fans, and obviously he wanted to pay tribute to the organization who took care of him and his family for all those years. I thought it was important our team played well."
For Alfredsson, it's finally closure, perhaps.
His exit had been so dramatic last summer.
Nobody in these parts, heck nobody anywhere, had ever envisioned him playing in any other uniform. We won't go over all the arguable tidbits, but it's safe to say Senators owner Eugene Melnyk seemed angriest of all when the whole thing went down.
Melnyk joined the TSN broadcast Sunday from his place in Barbados. Guess he couldn't be bothered to be here for the most anticipated game of the season, although to be fair, it was his weekend with his two daughters from a dissolved marriage. And while he said all the right things in his interview with TSN's James Duthie, it might also speak volumes of how Melnyk still feels about it all.
Thing is, this might not be goodbye forever for Alfredsson. There's still a sense held by some that he might come back one day and work in the front office here. That had always been the plan before. And who knows, Alfredsson might get the chance to do it with a different owner here one day, given the rumored financial issues that Melnyk seems to be facing.
That's talk for another day, though.
This night belonged to Alfredsson, who got to cap it off with an empty-net goal to add to his assist earlier in the night.
"It was nice kind of to seal the game there," Alfredsson said of his empty-netter. "They were pushing, and I was thinking, 'Here comes the pesky Sens again.' But we were lucky to get a good bounce there. I was able to get free and kind of put the game away."
Telling as well was how his Wings teammates reacted after his goal, mobbing him, smiles up and down the bench. They wanted this one for him.
"He's fit in seamlessly on this team. Hall of Famer, all class,'' Cleary said. Echoed Kronwall: "He's just such a normal guy, even though he is who is he is and all the things he's accomplished in his hockey career and his life. He's still a low-key guy, a true professional; it's just fun to be around a guy like that."
It's why Alfredsson was so popular in these parts for so many years. And hats off to Senators fans for reminding him of it Sunday.