Alfredsson hopes to make beautiful music again

Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson returned to the ice in full gear on Thursday, on the road to...

Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson returned to the ice in full gear on Thursday, on the road to recovery from back surgery. (ERROL McGIHON/QMI Agency)

EARL McRAE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:46 AM ET

OTTAWA - Two of Sweden’s greatest exports to the world were ABBA and Daniel Alfredsson. Alfredsson, too, made wonderful music. On ice. ABBA left us almost 30 years ago. Injury.Not of the body, the soul. Love turning to divorce.

Alfredsson’s injury was different. The body. He hopes the injury will not make him leave us. His fans, who are many, hope he is right. Hope he is right. Not believe he is right. No one can say with certainty. Not even Daniel Alfredsson who has always been so certain about certainty.

“You once told me you’re a big ABBA fan,” I say to him. He’s sitting on a bench in a dressing room at the Bell Sensplex. His hair is matted from sweat. He has just finished an informal, volunteer, non-contact workout for 90 minutes on the ice with two dozen players, including some from other NHL teams who live off-season in the area.

Alfredsson’s season with the Senators was cut short in February. The right hip, the right leg. The tingling, the numbness, the weakness, the pain. Game to game, worsening. His abilities diluting. A herniated disc pressing on the sciatic nerve.

He had the surgery in June. It took two hours. He didn’t want to have it. Back surgeries are recommended only as a last option. He’d hoped the injury would heal itself after his season ended. It didn’t. The pain persisted. But the pain that decided it for him was his inability to play with his children the way he wanted and once could.

Daniel Alfredsson. Over the years, the greatest of Sens. The captain. No harder worker on the ice, no finer leader. Intellectually, physically. His package of skills to be envied. Hockey Hall of Fame credentials? Maybe, maybe not. But in the more important chapel of life? Character, decency, integrity, public and private benevolence, community caring, aspiring morality. First-ballot selection. Shoo-in.

“I do like ABBA,” he says, grinning. “Their music still sounds great today.”

“You were born,” I say, “on Dec. 11, 1972.”

He nods.

“The last time ABBA ever performed together,” I tell him, “was on Dec. 11, 1982. Your 10th birthday.” If there is a mystical connection in that, I don’t know, and neither does he. Except that if ABBA’s music continues to endure, maybe it’s meant for his melody on ice to endure as well.

He and his body parts will turn 39 years old this coming season. Thirty-nine is not old, but, he concedes, it can be old for a hockey player, one who, like him, has been warring in the NHL as a Senator since 1995 when he was a sixth-round draft pick. Only two of the top 10 first-round draft picks that year are still in the league, some of the others long retired.

He acknowledges that his back problem was due to a combination of hockey aging and battles, that it had been bothering him “for some time,” but if he senses the encroachment of a final horizon rising darkly, he doesn’t say so.

“You looked good out there, I didn’t seen any grimaces,” I tell him.

He brightens. “I felt good. No pain. I don’t know if it’s 100%, but it feels good. So far. It’s nice to be on the ice again. The real test will be when there’s contact. I might not be the player again that I was, say, five years ago. I’m not saying I can’t be, but maybe.”

I think of telling him something the great rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins once told me in the gloaming of his career: “I’m not as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was.” But I don’t.

I ask him if, having had the surgery, a return of the same kind of debilitating injury gnaws at his mind; will it affect him psychologically should he experience back twinges?

“I don’t think so. It’s confidence. If I have a twinge and it’s just that, if it goes away quickly, I’ll be fine. It’s when it doesn’t.”

I shake his hand, I wish him well.

I have a dream, a fantasy

To help me through reality

And my destination makes it worth the while

Pushing through the darkness still another mile

I believe in angels

I have a dream, a song to sing

To help me cope with anything

If you see the wonder of a fairytale

You can take the future even if you fail

I believe in angels

— ABBA, I Have A Dream


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