Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press via AP

I remember his face when he got the call.

All business.

Then a big smile.

A big Alfie smile. 

I was sitting across from him back home in Sweden this summer. We both knew the call might come that day. We’d waited for it together on the same day the last couple of years. So to be there when it happened, to see firsthand how much it meant to him — to his family, his boys — it was really special.

Daniel Alfredsson, Hockey Hall of Fame, Class of 2022.

I’m so happy for you, Alfie.

You deserve it for a million different reasons, lots of which everyone knows. They saw it with their own eyes. You were an incredible player. But I was lucky enough to see up close just what an incredible person you are. And if everyone doesn’t mind … I just want to talk about my buddy for a few minutes. 

There are a lot of places I could start. But one of the best experiences from my time in Ottawa was the night Alfie retired as a Senator. December 4, 2014. Packed house. His beautiful family by his side. I remember standing near the bench with his boys, watching him as he stood under the spotlight at center ice. The arena was going crazy. It felt like all of Ottawa was there with us. Like they were there with him. He stood there for a few seconds and, man, you could just feel the love —the appreciation. You don’t hear many rinks like that, you really don’t.

Erik Karlsson | San Jose Sharks | Alfie | The Players’ Tribune
Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty

In that moment, what I knew already was just reinforced: Ottawa loves Alfie like a son, and he loves it right back. He always has. There are a lot of guys who win Cups, who win different awards and all that. But there’s not many who could get a reaction like that from their city. And it’s because of who he is as a man, the connection he’s made with so many Senator fans. I learned that the second I became a part of the organization.

Actually, probably a few seconds before.

The 2008 draft was in Ottawa. I had no idea where I was going. Some teams were interested but not even my agent had a good idea. There were some rumblings when Ottawa traded up for the 15th pick. And then Alfie walked up onstage to announce it. The place went wild. Alfie! Alfie! Alfie! 

I don’t remember him saying it because I was too excited, but I know at some point he said, “The Ottawa Senators select, with their first selection, Erik Karlsson, from Frolunda, Sweden.” Then I sort of just blacked out. Thankfully it’s on YouTube somewhere out there I’m sure. But I do remember how excited the building was to see him, and how nice he was to me. As a European player the draft can be extremely overwhelming. I didn’t know anyone and it was just a whirlwind, but Alfie made me feel comfortable right away.

That summer he invited me to his home in Sweden, and I got to meet his whole family. He treated me like one of his boys and they were all so kind to me. I was really happy to be a Senator for a lot of reasons. I’d heard so many great things about the city and team. But being able to hopefully play alongside Alfie one day … that would have been a dream for any Swedish player my age.

All the guys I played with back home knew who he was, of course. He was a hero! See, when I was growing up, we really didn’t follow the NHL too much. I know we played the video games on my SEGA. My friends and I did actually pick the Sens a lot because they were pretty good back then. But we followed hockey through our local teams and the Swedish national team.

Erik Karlsson | San Jose Sharks | Alfie | The Players’ Tribune
Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty

And any Swede will remember 2006 and the Turin Olympics.

I was 15 years old, completely obsessed with hockey. My team and I watched every game. And the gold medal game was one of those nights — one of those moments, really — that just sticks with you. It meant so much to us. So much. Maybe more than I could really even understand at that age. To beat Finland, too, extra sweet. Alfie was a big part of that team, along with so many legends (Congratulations, Henrik and Daniel!) who inspired a whole generation of kids. We have a lot of great players these days, but people forget we’re a small country. What that team accomplished … it will be felt in Sweden for a long, long time.

A couple of years later, I was playing for Frolunda. Alfie had played there for a bit before heading to Ottawa. He meant a lot to that club, and you couldn’t find somebody who didn’t love to tell you their favorite goal or moment of his. He’d come around the facility in the off-season and treat everybody like they were family. I’ll never forget that. 

Going into my rookie season in Ottawa, knowing the type of guy Alfie was made all the difference for me. I really mean that. If I’m being honest with you … I know I wouldn’t have become the player I am today without his help. I had a different style at the time than a lot of other NHL defensemen and it wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea. But Alfie knew me, he knew what I could do, what I wanted to do. And I don’t know exactly how he did it, but having him in my corner … he protected me, in a way. I was allowed to play my game. And I think that’s a huge part of why I found success quickly in Ottawa. 

Off the ice … well, he became a great friend. He was the best man at my wedding in 2017. He and his family mean the world to my wife, Mel, and I.

I really do feel so lucky to know him. And to have played beside him? Pretty cool, if you ask me. I’ll cherish our time on the national team together in Sochi in 2014. That was a dream come true.  His 1,000th game — so glad I got to be there for that.Seeing him score his 400th goal — what a moment. What can I say? I’m a big fan.

When I got the C in Ottawa, I knew what it meant because of everything I’d learned from him. His connection with the city became mine, and we both still call the city home. I’ll always love Ottawa, and that’s in part because of Alfie.

The day he retired as a Senator in 2014, the whole night was supposed to be about him. And rightfully so. But I remember getting to the rink and all his boys were wearing my jersey. Not their dad’s — mine. I had just become the captain a few months earlier, and I knew that Alfie meant it as a gesture to everyone. As if to say, My time is done, let’s get behind Erik and the team. Even up to his very last day as a Senator, he still had my back. That’s just who he is. 

He’s “Uncle Alfie” to my kids, and when they get old enough to know him better, they’re going to realize that he’s a wonderful man. A great father, a great husband, a great human being. He treated everybody with respect. He knew right from wrong. He cared passionately about the game of hockey and the city of Ottawa. He still does.

It feels incredible to say that my best friend is going into the Hall of Fame.

Congratulations, buddy.