THN in Sochi: Go ahead, cheer for Alfie

Ken Campbell
Alfie

SOCHI – Everyone in Canada should know that it’s all right to be happy for Daniel Alfredsson. If he manages to win the second Olympic gold medal of his career, cheer the accomplishment, even if you can’t cheer the result. Your passport will not be revoked and your beer fridge will not be confiscated. Trust us on that one.

Such is the kind of respect a player of Alfredsson’s ilk commands. Vilify him, if you will, for his decision to bolt the Ottawa Senators to chase his Stanley Cup dreams with the Detroit Red Wings. But then you’ll also have to have a hate-on for Brendan Shanahan for engineering his departure from Hartford, Mark Messier for abandoning Edmonton and even Wayne Gretzky for bailing on the Los Angeles Kings to go to St. Louis.

And as it turns out, it looks like Alfredsson made a miscalculation anyway. The Red Wings certainly don’t look like a serious threat for the Stanley Cup this year, particularly if reports that their captain, Henrik Zetterberg, is out for the year with his back problems.

On the eve of what will almost certainly his last game wearing the Tre Kronor, Alfredsson has the chance to reach what will be the pinnacle of his career one more time. He has never won a Stanley Cup, reaching the final in 2007 with the Senators. He has played in seven World Championship tournaments and has only two silver and two bronze medals. He has the 1996 Calder Trophy and his spot reserved in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

That legacy would be enhanced by a second gold medal, not that Alfredsson was focusing on that the day before the gold medal game against Canada.

“It’s going to be tremendous to step on the ice (Sunday),” Alfredsson said. “It would be unbelievable (to win), but I’m not allowing myself to think that far ahead. We’re happy to be in the final, but we’re going to face our toughest test yet. It’s going to be a big challenge, but it’s one that we’re happily looking forward to.”

Alfredsson is the oldest player on either team and is one of just three players on the roster to have won the gold medal in 2002 in Turin. (Zetterberg, who pulled out of the tournament after the first game, was also on that team, as was Daniel Sedin, who missed the tournament with an injury.) The game in Sweden is rapidly being turned over to a new bunch of young players such as Karlsson, Alexander Steen and Gabriel Landeskog, players who certainly carry a little more swagger with them than the older players in Sweden.

There has been a paradigm shift in Swedish hockey culture in the last few years. The Swedish Hockey Federation has made a point of making its players more battle-hardened and has instilled a mentality that makes losing in tournaments like this one less easy to accept. Alfredsson is probably a little less boisterous than, say, his good friend Karlsson, but he also did once guarantee a Stanley Cup championship for the Senators. And on the ice, Alfredsson has done almost everything the right way. He usually plays the game on the right side of the rulebook – the notorious hit from behind on Darcy Tucker in the 2002 playoffs notwithstanding – while giving no quarter to his opponent.

Alfredsson was sitting on his couch at home watching the game on television the last time his country played Canada in a gold medal game 20 years ago. Of course, he has a vivid recollection of the Peter Forsberg goal that won the gold medal, but was just as impressed with Tommy Salo’s save on Paul Kariya in the same shootout and a goal by Magnus Svensson, a little-known defenseman who later played 46 games for the Florida Panthers and also scored in that shootout.

“He came in with a fake-shot deke and went around and scored a beautiful goal,” Alfredsson said. “It was a very proud moment in Sweden.”

As will Sunday afternoon if the Swedes can win the gold medal again. History could repeat if this game goes to a shootout. It certainly wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest Alfredsson would be one of Sweden’s shooters. He scored the first shootout goal in NHL history and leads all Swedish players with 19 career shootout goals. Only Alex Steen (44.8 percent) and Nicklas Backstrom (38.5 percent) have a better shootout percentage among players on this team than Alfredsson’s 33.3.

If that happens and Alfredsson seals the victory, Canada will undoubtedly go into a short, but very major, bout of depression. But amid that grief, there should be some happiness for one of the game’s great players and men. It would be more than OK to feel that, after all.