Daniel Alfredsson received a standing ovation and fans cheered and sobbed as the Ottawa Senators retired his No. 11 Thursday night — making him the first player in the team's modern era to receive the honour.
The 44-year-old spent 17 seasons with the Senators — including 13 as captain — and was instrumental in bringing the franchise from a struggling expansion team to a respectable, competitive force that went all the way to the Stanley Cup final in 2007.
"It's been a long time since I showed up to my first rookie camp in '95, forgetting my skates in Sweden — that's a true story," Alfredsson told the Canadian Tire Centre crowd.
"My first week as a Senator was spent playing in [skates] two sizes too big, and used. Luckily, though, I think it all worked out okay in the end."
Lots of tears
Over the course of 18 NHL seasons, Alfredsson played 1,246 games, had 444 goals and 713 assists. He remains the Senators' career leader in goals (426), assists (682) and points (1,108).
Not even a contract dispute in 2013 that ultimately led to Alfredsson signing with the Detroit Red Wings for one season was able to tarnish his impeccable image in the nation's capital.
Needless to say, seeing Alfredsson's No. 11 raised to the rafters of the Canadian Tire Centre brought out strong emotions.
I promised myself I wouldn't cry watching from my living room...but I'm already bawling 😭 #celebrate11— @lori_lama
don't cry don't cry don't cry don't cry don't cry don't cry don't cry don't cry don't cry #Celebrate11— @smani9461
I'm going to need more Kleenex. #Alfie— @Senatorials
Before Alfredsson addressed the crowd, his brother Henric said a few words, initially suggesting — to kind-hearted jeers — that Alfredsson was "probably not the most talented player to come into the NHL,"
"But he has an incredible determination and will to win," he continued, to cheers. "A will to try to do the best at everything he does, every single day."
'[We] became men together'
Since his retirement, Alfredsson has worked in the Senators' front office, signing a one-year contract extension in June to serve as an advisor to the hockey operations department.
Alfredsson has also been a strong advocate for mental health issues in Ottawa, campaigning for the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre since 2008, and a supporter of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.
Former teammate Wade Redden, who played 11 seasons with Alfredsson, told the crowd it would be "fitting" that Alfredsson would become the first modern-day Ottawa player — after Frank Finnigan, who played 10 seasons with the club and helped them win the Stanley Cup in 1927 — to have his number retired.
"We were a group of selfless hard-working kids who grew up together, became men together, and won lots of hockey games together," said Redden, reflecting back on his time playing with Alfredsson.
"From day one, back in '96, I could see the special player Alfie was."
Alfredsson concluded his speech by calling the day "a beautiful day."
"This is the most incredible honour of my life, and I'm so proud to have my number retired here in Ottawa," he said. "I will forever be a Senator."