COLUMBUS – While his Coyotes teammates enjoyed the second day of a five-day hiatus from the season, defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson traveled from Arizona to the NHL All-Star Game on Thursday.
Ekman-Larsson, 23, awoke at 7 a.m. for a 10:30 a.m. flight and was all smiles as he checked his hockey gear as luggage at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport and then flew commercially to the League’s star-studded event. While waiting to depart, he signed a few autographs, took some photos and chatted with fans who recognized him.
Ekman-Larsson is the only Swede selected to play at this year’s All-Star Game. He won’t be lonely here though because his parents have made the trip from Sweden to watch him as the festivities unfold all weekend. The three of them planned to dine out on Thursday night.
“I’m really looking forward to this,” Ekman-Larsson said from his hotel’s lobby.
“It’s going to be a good time and it’s going to be nice to see my parents again and spend some time with them.”
Ekman-Larsson plans to visit with former teammate Radim Vrbata during the weekend. He also is hoping to get to know other All-Stars whom he knows only from competing against them.
“I’m going to try to make some new friends here,” Ekman-Larsson said. “It’s going to be fun to be around (Sidney) Crosby. He’s a big superstar in this league and I’ve played against him a couple times. It’s just going to be fun to be around him, and all the players, but especially him.”
Like the other All-Stars in town, Ekman-Larsson will learn which All-Star team he will play for on Friday night when team captains Nick Foligno and Jonathan Toews select players during a televised Fantasy Draft on NBC Sports Network (at 6 p.m. Arizona time). Once selected for a team, Ekman-Larsson will later learn which Skills Competition event he will take part in on Saturday night on NBC Sports Network (at 5 p.m. Arizona time).
“I’m pretty nervous about the draft,” Ekman-Larsson said. “I think it’s a good chance that I get picked last and I don’t want that to happen.”
The All-Star Game itself will be played Sunday on NBC Sports Network (at 3 p.m. Arizona time).
Ekman-Larsson is the fifth defenseman in team history to be invited to play in an NHL All-Star Game. The others are Oleg Tverdovsky, Teppo Numminen, Ed Jovanovski and Keith Yandle.