OTTAWA - It is the homecoming everyone has been waiting for.
Daniel Alfredsson will make his return to Ottawa on Sunday for the first time since leaving the Senators and signing with the Detroit Red Wings this past July.
"I'm anxious to play the game," said Alfredsson to a throng of reporters. "What happens is going to happen. It's a very different situation from anything I've ever gone through before so I don't know what to expect or what's going to happen, but hopefully it will be a good night."
Alfredsson admitted it felt strange being on the visitor's side, but at the same time very familiar.
"There's always rinks around the league where you feel good when you go into them and I feel really good coming into this rink, there's no question."
This game has been on Alfredsson's mind since he signed with the Red Wings as a free agent and while he's looking forward to the game itself, coming back to Ottawa holds just as much meaning.
"I think the biggest thing I looked forward to coming back was probably seeing friends and meeting people and the game is what it's going to be," he said. "It's a division rival and they've handed it to us pretty good two times and obviously coming back to Ottawa and playing here the first game I'm sure will be emotional and I'm not sure how I'm going to react. But it will be a special night."
Sunday's game will undoubtedly be emotional for Alfredsson, but it will also be a special night for his family. His wife and four sons are in town for the game. Three of the four boys were at the Senators' rink Saturday to watch practice.
"This is home to the kids," said Alfredsson. "There's no question. They're really looking forward to it. They're down here at practice today and they feel at home here in this rink. Same things are going to go through my head tomorrow. A lot of good memories and a lot of good things have happened here. It will be a special game."
The longtime captain and fan favourite left amidst a crowd of controversy, but on Sunday all parties involved will finally get a chance to put the issue to rest.
In his initial comments Alfredsson said he made the move as he felt he had a better chance of winning the Stanley Cup with the Red Wings.
Weeks later he admitted his decision had more to do with a lack of contract negotiations, something the Senators vehemently denied. In the end both parties left wounded, leaving many to wonder how Ottawa would welcome back its most beloved player.
The Senators plan on honouring Alfredsson and his 17 seasons in Ottawa with a video montage following the national anthems.
"I think it will finally put a close to it," said Senators coach Paul MacLean. "We've moved on and I know Daniel's moved on. This gives fans an opportunity to move on and I think it will be good for everybody."
Regardless of what led to Alfredsson's decision, his former teammates believe he absolutely deserves to be recognized and honoured for his contributions to both the team and the community.
"There's always emotion when there's change and change in pro sports is sometimes inevitable and sometimes it isn't," said Senators captain Jason Spezza. "I think it's important that they recognize him for what he's done and not just for him leaving. I think it's a good move by the team to recognize him. I think it's the right thing to do and something he deserves."
Alfredsson played a franchise-leading 1,178 regular season games, plus playoffs and picked up 1,108 points along the way. He volunteered countless hours to various charities and was the face of the Senators.
"I fully expect him to get huge applause as he deserves that," said Ottawa's Chris Phillips. "We'll welcome that time for the fans to do that, but at the same time we've got to go out and play the game."
Alfredsson was reluctant to say that Sunday's game will close the door on his ties to Ottawa.
"We were here for so long and we have so many roots here that I don't know if it's a closed chapter or the book's going to continue and where and what's going to happen," said Alfredsson. "But I guess this is another chapter that I'll go through and I hope it will be a great reception and I'm expecting them to cheer in Ottawa as well and I'll do everything I can to keep them quiet."