COUNTDOWN TO THE RETURN OF ALFIE (Dec. 1): 11 essays on #11 (#5 — Daniel Alfredsson as the most-hated man in Toronto… part 1)

AlfieCover_300-235x320In April 2013, Ottawa Magazine honoured the captain with the “Alfie Pack,” deconstructing the Senators’ icon with 11 essays on No. 11. By July, he was a Detroit Red Wing.

On December 1, Alfie and the Red Wings visit the Canadian Tire Centre for the first time since the deal was done. In the lead-up to the big event, Ottawa Magazine revisits our 11 essays — one essay per day for 11 days. (Want a copy? Back issues for sale here.)


Turning It up to 11: Alfie as the Most-Hated Man in Toronto

If Ottawa is really so insignificant, then why all the fuss over Alfredsson? For once, there’s tangible proof that Torontonians do feel emotion about an Ottawa personality.

The good old days. In the spring of 2013, when this shot was taken, #11 was the most popular jersey in the city. Except when Toronto came to town… Photograph by Brent Gervais

By Ian Mendes

You can pinpoint the moment Daniel Alfredsson became the most-hated athlete in Toronto. It happened at 9:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Friday, May 10, 2002.

The Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs were playing game five of their Eastern Conference semifinal series at the Air Canada Centre. With just over two minutes to play in the game — which, like the series, was tied 2-2 — Alfredsson hit Leafs forward Darcy Tucker into the side boards in the Toronto zone.

Leafs fans were screaming for a penalty to be called, convinced that Alfredsson had blindsided Tucker.

But not only was Alfredsson not penalized for the hit, he scored the game-winning goal exactly five seconds later while Tucker lay writhing on the ice in pain.

As Tucker received medical attention, the big screen inside the rink replayed the sequence of events. An expletive-laced chant started inside the arena, directed at the referees and Alfredsson. And from that moment onward, the Senators captain became the most-despised player at the Air Canada Centre.

When he returned for the deciding game seven a few days later, Alfredsson was roundly booed each time he handled the puck, a tradition that has carried on to this day. It’s a tradition that carries over to his own rink in Ottawa, which fills with thousands of Leafs fans when Toronto comes to town.

The incident with Tucker set the stage for Alfredsson’s other unforgettable moment inside the Air Canada Centre. In January of 2004, he broke his stick in half while taking a shot on goal. Instead of simply discarding his stick, Alfredsson pretended to toss the top half of it into the crowd — a gesture that poked fun at Leafs captain Mats Sundin.

Earlier that week, the NHL had suspended Sundin for a game after he impulsively flung his broken stick into the crowd, endangering the fans. While Alfredsson’s subtle jab at his countryman showed his sharp sense of humour, not surprisingly Leafs fans weren’t laughing at the joke.

And with those two incidents, the Senators captain became the most polarizing figure in an intense hockey rivalry. At the same time, he came to symbolize the friction between the two cities.

Citizens of Toronto usually act as if the nation’s capital barely exists on the radar and the 416 area code is where the true power brokers in this country reside. This indifference toward Ottawa merely feeds our inferiority complex as we aim for equal billing with Toronto. But if Ottawa is really so insignificant, then why all the fuss over Alfredsson?

For once, there’s tangible proof that Torontonians do feel emotion about an Ottawa personality. Daniel Alfredsson is so thoroughly hated in Toronto that they have been known to flash his image on the Jumbotron at Toronto Raptors games when a visiting player steps to the free throw line. Just the sight of the Senators captain is enough to whip even a Toronto basketball crowd into a frenzy.

When the Senators captain retires, it will be an emotional day for the city of Ottawa. No athlete in the modern era has captivated this city — both on and off the ice — like Alfredsson. But it will also be a sad day in Toronto when he no longer suits up in the visiting colours inside the Air Canada Centre. After he’s gone, Leafs fans will realize that Alfredsson was one of the few players who actually brought life into their arena.