Quest for the Holy Grail

CHRIS STEVENSON

, Last Updated: 8:04 AM ET

BUFFALO -- They clattered into the cramped dressing room at Mellon Arena, flushed with frustration, random voices raised and ringing off the cinderblock walls in the small, sweaty room.

The visitors' dressing room in Pittsburgh is one of the worst in the league, grey, small and divided into smaller rooms and the Senators usually have the forwards in one and the defencemen in the other.

Senators defenceman Wade Redden could hear the commotion in the other room between the second and third periods of Game 4 of the Senators'opening-round series against the Penguins.

The Senators were tied after two periods, 1-1, but were turning the puck over, their play ragged, and if not for some good work by goaltender Ray Emery, they might have been behind and the Penguins in a position to tie the series heading back to Ottawa.

Players were frustrated.

They raised their voices, a babble of ideas about what they needed and who needed to do it.

"At that point in that game, we weren't playing very well. We were turning the puck over in the second period. Rayzor was the key there to keeping it 1-1 and giving us a chance to get the next goal," said Redden.

"Guys were getting fiery, but everybody just wanted to help the cause, putting in their opinions," remembered Senators centre Jason Spezza.

Finally, one voice took over and the others fell away.

People have wondered about the leadership of Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, speculated he is not a vocal guy, but one of those players who leads by deed.

Oh, he can be vocal.

He basically told everybody in the emotionally charged room to shut up.

"Everyone was upset," he remembered. "It was more just telling everyone to sit down, relax. Let's regroup. It was out of control a little bit. Guys where coming in and saying "Let's (bleeping) go, we've got to pick it up," a lot of people were upset and rightfully so, but I just felt, 'sit down, relax, regroup, and we'll be fine.' "

MODEST

After Alfredsson had lowered the volume of the room and dropped the temperature a bit, Senators coach and general manager Bryan Murray ripped into them with an impassioned speech about attitude.

Alfredsson wouldn't take credit for the way things turned out. That's not his style.

Defenceman Anton Volchenkov scored the only goal of the third period and the Senators left for Ottawa with a 3-1 series lead and left behind the word "attitude" scribbled on a white board in that little dressing room.

"Bryan came in and had the perfect speech," shrugged Alfredsson. "We were still in the game, but at the same time, he knows us so good, he knows that we weren't skating and waiting for something to happen rather than making something happen. He got us going again."

That was pretty much the series right there.

And that, in a snapshot, sums up Alfredsson's leadership.

"I want to be the guy who never loses his cool," said Alfredsson. "That's the way I feel. Always be in control of my emotions. Always giving everything I have out there and if I need to say something, I believe the guys will respect me and where I'm coming from. That's the biggest thing."

This is a different Daniel Alfredsson we're seeing this spring. He is a reflection of the team. Maybe it's the other way around.

After years of playoff disappointments, the captain and his team have been more poised, composed and productive this time around.

Alfredsson's name is now among those being considered for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs' most valuable performer.

COMPOSED

"Composure, that starts with the leader, for sure," said Redden. "Ever since I've known him he's been great at this time of year. Other years, for sure, that's been one of our problems is losing that composure. I think he's got a great feel (for the situation).

"Everyone is so committed to each other, it doesn't take much to get guys to come around. For sure he's got good instincts that way. He knows the things to say at the right time. After that intermission, everyone just kind of took a deep breath and everybody regrouped and were ready to go again."

What's changed for Alfredsson?

Maybe the years of playoff frustration have had a benefit. More likely is simply that Alfredsson is not the same person he was four or five years ago.

He said becoming a father -- he and wife Bibi have two sons, Hugo, 4, and Loui, 11 months -- has had an immensely positive effect on him.

He has perspective now.

He is no less competitive, but can no longer afford, nor desires, to have hockey consume him.

"He doesn't bring anything home with him now like he used to," said Alfredsson's brother, Henric, who won the Memorial Cup with the Ottawa 67's in 1999.

"Work is work and it stays at the rink. I think being a father has calmed him down big time. He doesn't want to be grumpy around the kids after a loss."

Spezza has seen a difference, too.

"In past years, I think at times when he's gotten frustrated, he's shown it a little more. This year you can tell he wants to be the calming influence for us," he said. "If I want to yell and scream a bit and get pissed off a bit, he can tell me to shut up, relax and calm down, whereas in the past he might have been the guy ranting and raving."

"As a leader, he is definitely a calming influence rather than a yeller."

"I look at him even on the golf course, all the way around, he is a changed man," said Henric. "Whether it's golf, winning hockey games, being an Olympic champion, his feeling is his kids and his time with them is more important than anything."

Said Alfredsson: "Me being a dad has been the best thing to happen to me."

"No question, you mature," he said, comparing himself now with the Alfredsson of five years ago. "You don't realize it, but you are a very selfish person, it's about you all the time pretty much because it's hockey season. Once you have kids, you realize it's not all about you. It's been a great experience and the best thing that's happened to me.

"I make a point of spending a lot of time with the kids and the relationship I have with them. It's just a joy to come back home after a day at the rink. I think when you're struggling, it's the best thing. You come home and you don't think about what happened at the rink. It's a great balance, an equalizer.

"You realize hockey's not everything, but it doesn't take away from my competitiveness. Once I'm at the rink, I'm at the rink. That's pretty much the same."

Alfredsson has been teaching Hugo to ride a bike.

They inline skate, go swimming, do the things dads do with their kids.

He's not the captain then.

"(Hugo) has no idea. He knows I go to the hockey rink. He knows where it is. I'm a pro hockey player. He probably thinks every dad is. That's pretty cool."

DOMINANT

At the rink, Alfredsson has been doing the things captains do for their teams.

He has been dominant this spring, playing in and leading in all aspects of the Senators game, five-on-five play, the power play and killing penalties.

There's no question Alfredsson has been a force. Two hits in this playoff run stand out so far: Knocking down Pittsburgh's Gary Roberts for a 50-50 puck and finishing a hit on New Jersey Devils defenceman Richard Matvichuk in the last round, sending him sprawling to the ice, too.

Alfredsson talked about his struggle to find the right skates this year and Henric said getting the issue resolved has been a big key to his brother's play.

"He was so frustrated during the season," said Henric. "He didn't have his skating legs and he couldn't hit because he didn't feel like he had his balance. Finding the right skates and getting the right stick has changed his game. I've watched him now for years and I see a big difference in the way he's skating.

"I've never seen my brother like this. Maybe he's had bigger scoring streaks, but the way he's playing on the power play, penalty killing, his all-round game? He's never played as well as he is right now and it's fun to see," he said.

"It's almost scary. I see it in his eyes. His eyes are just like ..." Henric searched for the way to put it. "His eyes are like, 'just watch me.' "

---

ALFREDSSON FAST FACTS

Born: Dec. 11, 1972, Grums, Sweden

Height: 5-foot-11

Weight: 200 lbs.

How Acquired: Ottawa's sixth round pick, 133rd overall, in 1994.

Career regular season statistics:

783 GP 291 G 467 S 758 PTS 351 PIMS

2006-07 playoffs: 11 GP 7 G 6A 13 PTS 8 PIMS

Career playoff statistics:

90 GP 36G 35A 71 PTS 64 PIMS

Favourite music: U2

Favourite movie: Youngblood

Favourite TV show: Entourage

Favourite player growing up: Steve Yzerman

If he could invite any three people for dinner, who would they be: "My wife and kids."

Finish this sentence: Don Cherry is..."Hockey Night In Canada."

Golf handicap: 4

If he wasn't a hockey player, he'd be: "A soccer player."

Favourite NHL road city: Buffalo


Videos

Photos