OTTAWA - The Zamboni incurs technical difficulties during a resurfacing midway through the practice at the Kanata Recreation Complex Tuesday night and the players are amused to no end by the snow it leaves on the ice.
Meanwhile, the fact that they are about to skate, pass pucks and learn from two of the true pillars in Ottawa Senators history, well, that has no impact on them whatsoever.
Not anymore, anyway.
“To these guys,” coach Henric Alfredsson says of his players on the Kanata Blazers atom squad. “They are just another dad on the team.”
“They” are Daniel Alfredsson and Chris Phillips, two locked-out NHLers who sure are spending a lot of time at rinks these days.
After their charity game in Cornwall Monday night, they remained at the Civic Complex until all autograph requests were granted. The bus didn’t get back to the Sensplex, where their cars were parked, until 2:30 a.m.
At the dinner hour later that day, they were on the KRC ice with the Blazers, again helping the coach, Daniel Alfredsson’s younger brother.
Daniel’s son Hugo and Phillips’ son Ben are on the team of nine-year-olds.
“They’re contradicting all my decisions so far ... it’s been a work in progress,” Henric, who played the 1998-99 season for the 67’s, said of his celebrity assistants, before turning serious. “No, it’s been nothing but great. The kids are benefitting from it. Both Daniel and Philly, they’re usually working by now, but now they’re able to be helping out on the ice and I think the kids are having a great time.
“Obviously, Daniel and Philly are having a good time, as well.”
Phillips says it’s making the most of the bad situation that is the lockout.
“I’ve been out on the ice with my daughter’s team a few times, and I’ve really enjoyed it,” he said. “I’m out here running a couple of stations and helping the kids where I can see they could use a tip, here and there. When the practice is over and the games start, I’m up in the stands with all the other parents.”
During Blazer games, Phillips and Alfredsson get approached, but generally people respect the fact they are there to watch the kids. Autographs are signed and chit-chat is made before and afterward.
At practices, their names might as well be Joe and Bob.
“I think I was Ben’s dad for a little while, until today, when all the cameras showed up,” Phillips said at what might have been the most media-covered practice (one newspaper, one TV station) of an atom team ever. “Then they saw the NHL player for a little bit.”
Alfredsson has a lot of fun out on the ice with the kids — and not just because it gives him someone to play keep-away with again.
“It’s pretty neat to see the kids develop and mature,” he said. “I’m learning a lot myself as well.
“Even though I know quite a bit about hockey, it’s different teaching kids and how they learn, and how they accept what I’m trying to tell them. I’ve definitely had to work hard and try to explain, make sure I make myself understood in a way that they understand.”
Is it gratifying enough to make the Senators captain consider a coaching career after his playing days are done?
“I don’t know, maybe. I enjoy it,” he said. “I definitely enjoy being with the kids. I don’t know if I’d enjoy to spend as much time (on the job) as the pro coaches do. They’re putting quite a lot of work into keeping the whole operation going. (But this) is a lot of fun. The kids are so receptive, they’re eager, they want to learn.
“Our focus is definitely on skill, and having fun,” added Alfredsson. “And get work habits in there as well.
“I think that’s important. I think that’s what is great about playing a team sport. You learn everybody needs to pull their share. You learn how to be social in a group, how to interact in a group, taking given out responsibilities.
“That’s what I hope they take out of it the most. If some of them become good players, good for them.”
Alfredsson has compared Hugo’s game to that of former Senator Magnus Arvedson. He’s more of a smart player than a flashy player.
Is Ben Phillips another Wade Redden?
“You know what’s funny? I’d probably compare him to myself,” said Phillips. “It’s hilarious how you don’t teach him some things, but he skates very similar to me, right from his first year of hockey ... a defenceman, he’d like to stay back, it was comical to watch.
“He’s very much like me.”
Both of the offsprings could wind up following the footsteps of their fathers. Or not.
“It’s impossible to say, I think,” Alfredsson said when asked if Hugo is a future NHLer. “I think he’s developed a lot. There’s still a lot of learning to do for him, but I enjoy watching him play.
“I don’t see him that much in practice, to be honest, and it’s probably easier if I leave Henric the responsibility of coaching Hugo. If I give him too much criticism, he just gets mad at me. He hears it at home all the time.
“But he’s a good little player and I have a lot of fun with him.”
Alfredsson has marvelled at the way people in this country revere the game he plays. He was very much surprised by 4,800 fans turning out for a charity game in Cornwall. He said a similar type event featuring a Sundin and a Forsberg in Sweden would probably draw less than 2,000.
“What I really find pretty neat is the interest people have in hockey,” said Alfredsson. “We know hockey is pretty much religion in Canada, but when I speak to people back home and I tell them about the interest, and the volunteer coaches there are for all different programs, from IP up to junior, it’s pretty amazing.”