Scanlan: Swede night for the Wings

Just a few days removed from Canada’s gold medal hockey win over Sweden, a Swedish theme persists in these parts.

Scanlan: Swede night for the Wings
Daniel Alfredsson is greeted by the bench after assisting on the 3rd Detroit goal in the 1st period as the Ottawa Senators take on the Detroit Red Wings in NHL action at Canadian Tire Centre. (Photo by Wayne Cuddington/ Ottawa Citizen)

Just a few days removed from Canada’s gold medal hockey win over Sweden, a Swedish theme persists in these parts.

Instead of Canada vs. Sweden, it felt like Sweden vs Sweden at the Canadian Tire Centre Thursday when the Detroit Red Wings visited the Ottawa Senators.

There was former Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson back in town, accompanied by fellow Red Wing Swedes Niklas Kronwall, Johan Franzen, Jonathan Ericsson and Gustav Nyquist among others.

In goal for Sweden, er, Detroit, was Jonas ‘The Monster’ Gustavsson, against Ottawa’s own Swedish giant, Robin Lehner.

Of course, Alfredsson’s great pal and frequent Sochi companion, Erik Karlsson was the star attraction on Ottawa’s blueline. And yet another Swede, Mika Zibanejad, had moved back to centre on a newly formed and interesting line for the Senators, between Bobby Ryan and callup Mike Hoffman.

The Swedes were running amok, even on the morning of the game, when several Red Wings were kicking a soccer ball while a Swedish contingent, including Karlsson and Alfredsson, were chatting nearby. Alfredsson had a hockey stick in his hand, and when an errant ball came heading for him, he calmly punched the ball away with the fist that clutched the knob of the stick, without missing a beat of the Swedish conversation.

Hours later, the Swedes were still running amok, but this time on the ice, firing up a 4-0 first period lead in front of a disgusted home crowd that serenaded their heroes with boos as they skated off. Franzen, ‘The Mule,’ an old Senators nemesis, scored two of the first four and had to be thinking about the five-goal game he had here two two years ago this very month.

In the second period, Franzen roofed another shot for the hat trick as the Wings extended their lead to 6-1 and Lehner got the hook while emergency backup Andrew Hammond made his NHL debut. Chalk up one of the few games the Senators can afford to lose post-Olympics if they’re to stay in the playoff race, suddenly plunging five points behind Detroit in the wild card chase.

Next week’s four-game swing to western Canada just became their marathon of hope. Or else hope is lost.

Alfredsson said the Swedish and Senators connections evaporate during a big game like this, in the heat of a playoff race.

“On the ice it doesn’t matter, you know most of the guys, you hang out, you talk after, it’s bragging rights at stake,” Alfredsson said.

Big picture, though, he’s a proud member of the Swedish hockey royalty in the twilight of a fine career. Not that he’s leaving anytime soon. Alfie hinted he will come back and sign another deal with Detroit as long as he feels as good as he does today. Off Thursday night’s rout, what Red Wing didn’t feel good?

“I look at Swedish hockey and I’m very proud, how many players we can bring into the league and that are doing really well,” Alfredsson said. “Detroit has always had a fair number of them, and so has Ottawa for quite some time as well.”

While he was captain in Ottawa, Alfredsson had a chance to be a mentor to a slew of young talent, but none as special as Karlsson, one of the pillars around which future Swedish teams will be built.

“Our depth is in great hands going forward, but the same as everybody else, there still needs to be more growth in youth hockey in Sweden, even though we do well with the players that do play,” Alfredsson said. “I wish the game could grow even more.”

Why is it that Alfredsson and Karlsson connect the way they do? He’s old, by hockey standards, at 41, wise, demure, the father of four (“my OTHER four kids,” he says, implying Erik is the fifth). Karlsson is 23, inked-up and brash. And they mean the world to each other.

“I think we think the same way in a lot of ways and in a lot of ways we’re different,” Alfie said. “I think we just find it easy to be around each other, feed off each other as well.

“We both bring something to the table that the other guy enjoys and for me, having him come into the league has definitely prolonged my career.”

No. 11 told us before the game he couldn’t provide tips to his Red Wings teammates on how to contain Karlsson.

“I can’t tell guys what to do against him because he’s so dynamic and so quick, it will be hard. But it’s gong to be fun and hopefully I’m the one that makes the call after a big win.”

No worries there, Alfie.

Karlsson will have his nights, perhaps as soon as Sunday in Vancouver in the indoor/outdoor game at B.C. Place. The bigger the venue, the brighter the lights, the better. Ask uncle Alfie, who marveled at Karlsson’s play in Sochi.

“To come to a stage as big as the Olympics and play the way he did is awful impressive, at that age,” Alfredsson said. “He was a force for us in most of our games. And he likes that role, being the guy.”

He’s going to have to be “the guy” for the Senators if they’re going to hang in this race.

wscanlan@ottawacitizen.com
Twitter.com/HockeyScanner

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