December 1, 2013 at 1:33 am

Gregg Krupa

Wings Daniel Alfredsson's return to Ottawa will be bittersweet affair

Daniel Alfredsson is the Senators' all-time leading scorer with 426 goals and 682 assists for 1,108. (Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

Ottawa, Ont. — I predict: Long applause, with at least two-thirds to three-fourths of the Senators fans standing, possibly more, and perhaps a small number of boos.

That is what is likely to greet Daniel Alfredsson, the greatest player in the 21-year history of the current Ottawa Senators, when the Red Wings faceoff against them, Sunday.

There really has not been a whole lot of doubt about it since last summer among a lot of people around the NHL.

The reason Alfredsson will receive a warm welcome back to town Sunday, for his first game since leaving the Senators, is fairly transcendent. Alfredsson is a really good guy. He also played the game in top form for most of his 17 seasons in the Canadian capital, although he fell short of winning a Stanley Cup.

That will overwhelm fans concerns about the cynicism of the business side of sport, or their feelings of abandonment.

He is their Steve Yzerman, a low-key man who led by example and with considerable class.

Respect resonates

In the Senators’ dressing room Saturday and among the Wings, as well, while there was some mention of Alfredsson’s outstanding career, there was a lot of sentiment that might have been shared by men who fight fires, build cars or teach kids.

The folks who last summer forecast a cacophony of catcalls, boos and the like, thought this would be about the business side of sport — something many fans, if not most, think well worth jeering.

But, this ain’t business. This is personal.

“Oh, it’ll be a warm reception for sure,” said the Senators rugged forward, Chris Neil, who has played for Ottawa for 12 seasons. “He was well-loved in this city and that’s the kind of person he is.

“You know, I’m sure the Detroit players will tell you the same thing: A great team guy, you know he fits in well and will do anything for the team mates.”

The player who succeeded him as captain has few doubts about it.

“Oh, I’m sure they’re going to recognize him properly, with a standing ovation. recognize what he’s done for the city, when he played here,” said Jason Spezza. “And I hear the team’s going to have a tribute before the game, so that will give the fans an opportunity to pay respects for him.”

Spezza is second, all-time, with these Senators — there was a previous Ottawa Senators franchise, a founding member of the NHL in 1917, that existed until 1934 — in goals (208), assists (405) and points (636).

Alfredsson is first (426, 682, 1,108).

Asked about some negative responses directed toward Alfredsson when the news broke that the Senators’ all-time leading scorer was disembarking for Detroit, Spezza acknowledged it.

But he said it would not matter.

“There’s always emotions when there’s change. And change in pro sports is sometimes inevitable and sometimes it isn’t,” Spezza said, allowing for some reading between the lines about a Alfredsson’s contract situation in Ottawa, when a series of lesser contracts Alfredsson took for the team preceded his decision to play beyond last season.

Then, the Senators could not make the deal, while telling Alfredsson they were intent on signing a considerably attractive free agent, Bobby Ryan.

“I think it’s important for them to recognize what he’s done,” Spezza said. “Not just for him leaving.’

What he did in Ottawa is make their new franchise a competitive team early in their history, in the 1990s, and even now.

Around town Saturday, they were still talking about “all Alfie did for Ottawa.” And beyond putting the Canadian capital back on the map in the NHL after five decades, he contributed abundantly in time and money to mental health causes and community concerns.

In the tarnished world of sport, that men like Daniel Alfredsson still exist is striking.

Model professional

He is an example of a life well lived, and the sort of man mothers and fathers want their boys to grow up to be.

“In our room, at practice, with the coaches, just the kind of man he is makes you a better team,” said Mike Babcock, coach of the Red Wings, who said he most certainly will have Alfredsson on the ice for the two national anthems and the start of the game.

In between, the Senators have prepared a brief video, likely a retrospective of 17 special years in the rink in Ottawa and around town.

What is Alfredsson anticipating?

“I don’t know, I think the biggest thing I looked forward to coming back was probably seeing friends and meeting people,” he said.

“The game is what it’s going to be. It’s a divisional rival, and they’ve handed it to us pretty good two times.

“Obviously, coming back here to Ottawa and playing for the first time is considerably emotional. I’m not sure how I will react, but I think it will be a special night.

Is he concerned about what the fans will do?

“Not really. I think I am anxious to play the game. What is going to happen, will happen. It’s a very different situation from anything I’ve gone through before. So, I don’t know what to expect or what’s going to happen.

“There’s so many memories for me, in this building.”

There will be at least one more from Sunday.

He will remember at least most of them standing and cheering, even after he felt he had to leave.

gregg.krupa@detroitnews.com
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