He is the oldest skater on the ice, but the one who plays the most.
Forty-year-old Daniel Alfredsson and 35-year-old Pavel Datsyuk are playing “keepaway” – a child’s game that has been Alfredsson’s customary finish to every NHL practice since he came to the league in 1995.
He was then an unknown, unheralded No. 133 draft pick from Sweden who would go on to win the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s top rookie, unknown no longer.
Alfredsson is the master of this silly game he plays at centre ice. Datsyuk, who is the best checking forward in the NHL, and many would argue its best player, is having so much trouble getting the puck from Alfredsson – who uses his skates as much as his stick to guard it – that, at one point, he just laughs and skates away.
Alfredsson can play keepaway as long as he wishes these days. There is no obligation to face the cameras, answer the questions, give the sound bites the stations will use to set up the night’s game.
Having worn the “C” for the Ottawa Senators since the previous century, he wears only the Detroit Red Wings logo now. And though it still doesn’t look right – Alfredsson, after all, was the face of the Senators until this summer – it surely has been going right: three goals and 10 assists for 13 points in 15 games. He is the team’s third-leading scorer after Datsyuk (six goals, 15 points) and the player who does wear the “C,” Henrik Zetterberg (seven goals, 14 points).
The Red Wings, who took on the Winnipeg Jets on Monday night, arrived in Manitoba with a 9-4-2 record and were tied for second place in the Eastern Conference.
Detroit has embraced Alfredsson.
“He’s a good fit for our team,” Zetterberg says. “He’s just been around for such a long time. He moves well. He sees the ice well. He’s got a great shot.”
And, in turn, Alfredsson and his family (wife Bibi, chidlren Hugo, Loui, Fenix and William Erik) have embraced their new home in suburban Birmingham, Mich. Hugo, 10, is playing with the prestigious Little Caesars hockey club.
“He’s in over his head,” Alfredsson says with a laugh. “But he’s developing.”
With schools sorted out for the three older boys, he could then concentrate on hockey. First order of business was a number.
He was given No. 11, his familiar Ottawa number, at training camp because the previous owner, Daniel Cleary, looked to be signing with another team. Cleary re-signed with Detroit before the season began and Alfredsson switched to No. 24 – only to have the NHL insist he switch back as the souvenir jerseys for this year’s Winter Classic game between the Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs were already in production. Cleary now wears No. 71.
“There was an adjustment period,” Alfredsson says. “Moving the family, figuring everything out at the rink. But I feel much more comfortable now with the play on the ice and the family is all moved in and settled. It feels good.”
Back in Ottawa, on the other hand, it doesn’t feel so good. The Senators have slipped with a 4-6-4 start.
The man who was captain of the Senators for 14 years tries to watch closely. He would much rather have seen Ottawa, with new captain Jason Spezza, get off to a much better start, as had been widely predicted would happen.
As the talk-show callers look for reasons – goaltending not as spectacular as it was a year ago, defence spotty, bad penalties – fingers are too easily pointed toward Detroit. If “Alfie” had stayed, the frustrated say, all would have been all right.
His departure this summer was a shock to both community and his teammates, most of whom had come to regard their captain as an Ottawa institution and a Senator (the good kind) for life.
There are a dozen interpretations for why he left. Detroit’s offer of $5.5-million (U.S.) for one year was surely a factor, but as he said himself: “I had not won a Stanley Cup and that’s a big priority for me.”
He later regretted saying anything at all because some presumed he had lost faith in the rebuilding Senators, but the fact remains, early in the 2013-14 season, that his shot, perhaps last shot, at a Stanley Cup ring is looking at the moment more plausible in Detroit Red than Ottawa Red.
An unexpected bonus for Alfredsson was the change seems to have given him renewed energy.
“I’ve been in a position where I have to prove myself again and I want to prove myself again,” he says. “Playing with guys like Datsyuk and Zetterberg, I find that physically I can skate with them. It’s been fun.”
He will be 41 when the 2014 Sochi Winter Games get under way, but Zetterberg thinks the player he won gold with at the 2006 Turin Olympics should, and could, once again represent Sweden.
“I would like to see him there,” Zetterberg says. He’s had a good start to his year here, so I think his chances are good.”
If Alfredsson was asked, would he go? “Of course,” he says.
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