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Alfredsson reconciles with Senators, goes home to Ottawa to retire

12/03/2014 05:19 EST | Updated 02/02/2015 05:59 EST
OTTAWA - On July 5, 2013, Daniel Alfredsson ceased to be the face of the franchise for many Ottawa Senators fans.

On Dec. 4, 2014, his legacy could be restored.

Alfredsson will announce his retirement Thursday in the city he called home for 17 years. The longtime captain will skate in pre-game warm-ups with the Senators one last time, take a ceremonial faceoff and in the process show that the damaged relationship between him and the organization has been repaired.

"It puts the shadow, whatever you want to call it — we don't need to talk about it anymore, really," Senators defenceman Chris Phillips said. "All the fences have been mended and rightfully so."

Alfredsson, the Senators' captain from 1999 through 2013, stunned the hockey world last year by leaving to sign with the Detroit Red Wings. His departure after 1,178 games, 426 goals and 682 assists, several playoff runs and a trip to the 2007 Stanley Cup final left raw emotions on both sides.

Once back problems prevented the 41-year-old right-winger from playing this season, he told the Red Wings and Senators that he was ready to call it a career. It's only fitting that he does it in the nation's capital.

"I'm really happy to see Alfie kind of reconcile with the team," said Dallas Stars centre Jason Spezza, who was Alfredsson's successor as the Senators' captain. "How things ended and him moving on was, I think, a move that he felt was necessary. I think it was probably the right move for him. But now that it's over and he's decided he's going to hang them up, I think it's good that Ottawa's welcoming him back."

Spezza, who asked for and was granted a trade this past summer, said of Alfredsson's situation that it's "a little bit of water under the bridge and time heals wounds."

Plenty of time has elapsed since Alfredsson spurned the Senators to go to Detroit, where he tied as the Red Wings' leading scorer. Thursday's "Welcome Home" celebration takes the healing process to another level.

Alfredsson will announce his retirement at Canadian Tire Centre in the morning, then take the ice for warm-ups with the Senators before their game against the New York Islanders. It'll be the last time the No. 11 is worn on a Senators jersey and the last chance for the future Hall of Famer to soak in the adulation from the crowd before his number is raised to the rafters at some point soon.

It's a unique chance for the seminal player in Senators history and the fans to say goodbye to each other.

"It's great that they're going to get a chance," coach Paul MacLean said. "Lots of times once you leave, it's over and done with. So the opportunity of him coming back gives the fans I guess some final closure."

Skating in warm-ups is also a first-of-its-kind idea, one that the Senators needed to get special permission from the NHL to execute. The league gave it, and friend and teammate Erik Karlsson is glad to be a part of it.

"It's the honourable way to end (his) career and celebrate a player that's done so much for this organization and this team, even before the time that most of us got here," said Karlsson, the Senators' current captain. "It's going to be a thing that everybody will remember for the rest of their careers."

Alfredsson's career is impossible to forget because as he went, so did the Senators. A native of Gothenburg, Sweden, he was a sixth-round pick, 133rd overall, in 1994 and over the years played in 121 of the 126 playoff games in franchise history.

Along the way, lifted the Prince of Wales Trophy and was the spokesman and the symbol of the team for almost two decades.

"He was a pillar and a foundation of that organization," Spezza said Tuesday in Toronto. "There's not a lot of tradition yet in that city, and he is the first real big player that's played (almost) his whole career there. I think it's good that they can recognize him and give him the recognition that he deserves."

Last week the team unveiled a video montage of some of Alfredsson's most memorable moments with the Senators and the Swedish national team. Set to "Coming Home" by Ditty-Dirty Money and Skylar Grey, lyrics like "let the rain wash away all the pain of yesterday" and "back where I belong" set the tone for an emotional reunion.

Owner Eugene Melnyk wrote on Twitter last week that "Dec. 4 will be a truly special and historic day for the Ottawa Senators." On Monday he wrote that he had spoken to Alfredsson to finalize "what will be the biggest 'Welcome Home' celebration Ottawa has ever seen."

"Even though I think he's come to terms with the decision he made with retiring, I think it might hit him a little bit harder when he comes in the rink again and sees all the people," Karlsson said. "I think it's probably going to take him a while to realize what really happened."

As a young player in the NHL, Alfredsson wasted little time making an impact on the Senators, winning the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 1995-96. Defenceman Mark Borowiecki, who grew up a Senators fan outside Ottawa, said that season was a "glimmer of hope" for fans.

"That was pretty early on in our time as a franchise," Borowiecki said. "It was pretty neat to see kind of a top-end-talent player like that in Ottawa."

Alfredsson spearheaded 15 trips to the post-season, most notably in 2007 when the Senators went to the Stanley Cup final before losing to the Anaheim Ducks. He won a gold medal with Sweden at the 2006 Olympics in Turin as the team's leading scorer and helped lead an injury-ravaged 2013 without Spezza and Karlsson for major parts of the season to the playoffs.

"He was a guy that, through any changeover, he had been there," Spezza said. "He had seen the good, the bad and the ugly. He had kind of been a part of things from the start when they were really bad, and he was with us and our captain when we had really good teams and we were knocking on the door to win the Cup, and he kind of saw us regressing a little bit towards the end. He's a guy that's really been through it all there."

Alfredsson went through it all and then some, including the ugly breakup in the summer of 2013 that was hard to see coming. In spite of that, many fans still wear Alfredsson jerseys to games, and pictures of him can still be found all over the arena.

He's etched in Ottawa sports history, something that will be front and centre as he laces up his skates with the Senators one final time.

"This is where he should retire," Karlsson said. "He still loves this organization and this city. As of right now, the Ottawa Senators really show that they love him back just as much."

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Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had the incorrect dates of Alfredsson's time as captain.

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