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Karlsson at peace returning to Ottawa with Sharks

Former Senators defenseman says 'They made me who I am today and I'm thankful for that'

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / Staff Writer

OTTAWA -- When Erik Karlsson previously held a press conference in Ottawa he was welling up.

This time around he was cracking jokes.

The lasting impression of the 28-year-old defenseman here in the Canadian capital remains his emotional, teary-eyed farewell just hours after being traded by the Ottawa Senators to the San Jose Sharks on Sept. 13.

From that moment, Karlsson circled Dec. 1 on his calendar -- the date he would return to Ottawa to face his former team.

That day has come. Or, as Karlsson put it during his Welcome Home presser at Ottawa University on Friday: "The time is nigh …"

That line caused the entire room of reporters to crack up. No one, however, laughed harder than Karlsson, who finally seems to be embracing the situation after months, weeks, even days of angst.

Just two days earlier, Karlsson walked away from a media scrum after the Sharks lost 5-3 to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena. The source of his dismay: the first comment to him from a reporter was "Well Erik, the time is nigh," referring to his impending return to Ottawa.

Video: Erik Karlsson returns with Sharks to face Ottawa

He was tense then. He seems much more relaxed now, judging by the way he seemed to be mocking himself with that quip.

"We all knew this time was coming up and I was going to be here," Karlsson said. "It's going to be nice that I'm going to be here and we're going to do this. After that I think it's going to calm down because we're not going to come back for at least another year.

"I feel fairly calm, a little anxious, and obviously it feels a little bit different. I slept at home so that was nice."

So, too, was the warm reception he gave to his Sharks teammates -- his new hockey family -- on Thursday. Karlsson hosted them at his home in the Glebe, a neighborhood south of downtown Ottawa, to watch the Dallas Cowboys-New Orleans Saints NFL game, a gesture of team bonding that Sharks coach Peter DeBoer considered to be very impressive.

"The guys enjoyed being there," DeBoer said. "All the players I talked to said they had a very good night. I think they really appreciated that.

"He's got great leadership abilities like that. I knew that seeing him take charge on the ice … but now I see it off the ice. He and his wife Melinda have both jumped into team events. He's gone golfing with our leadership group, he does a lot of team dinners with our key guys. Hosting the team at his house like he did I think is just another step for him and shows how he's putting himself out there and being part of this."

For Joe Thornton and the Sharks, there is an understanding of what an emotional roller-coaster ride being back in Ottawa is for Karlsson. Thornton spent the first eight seasons with the Boston Bruins before being traded to the Sharks, so he is well aware of the experience of returning with another team to the city you broke into the NHL with. That's why it wasn't surprising that he led the Sharks in a round of cheers and stick taps when Karlsson stepped onto the ice for practice Friday.

Will the reception from the Ottawa fans be just as warm for Karlsson for the game against the Senators at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday (1 p.m. ET; TVAS, TSN5, NBCSCA, NHL.TV)?

"That's one of those things I know it's coming up and I know it's there and whatever happens in the moment is going to happen," Karlsson said. "I'm going to try and enjoy it."

Mark Stone thinks Karlsson has plenty of reason to do just that. The Senators forward predicts his former teammate will get the type of cheers he so richly earned.

"I think he's probably going to get a standing ovation," Stone said. "I think he deserves it. He earned that with the way he played on the ice every night. He's one of the best players to ever play in Ottawa, so he deserves that.

"Ultimately, he's a friend of ours, one of the best players to ever play here, and the things that he did during my time here was nothing short of spectacular. You remember the good times we had, the playoff run that he carried us on, those are the things he should be remembered for."

Video: Karlsson Speaks Following Practice on 11/30

Karlsson's links with Ottawa and the Senators has many layers. His wife is from here. Ottawa was the only NHL team he'd ever known since he was picked No. 15 in the 2008 NHL Draft.

Then came the trade. The Senators sent Karlsson and forward prospect Francis Perron to the Sharks for forwards Chris Tierney and Rudolfs Balcers, defenseman Dylan DeMelo, forward prospect Joshua Norris, a conditional first-round pick in the 2019 or 2020 NHL Draft, and a second-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.

Karlsson's weepy farewell press conference included his insistence that he never wanted to leave. He'd played his entire nine-season NHL career with the Senators. He was their captain. He won the Norris Trophy twice, and scored 518 points (126 goals, 392 assists) in 627 games. He'd helped them to double overtime of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2017.

Now he comes back confident that he has no regrets about his time in Ottawa.

"None," he said. "I had a great time here. I came here as a young boy and I spent my entire adult life here. I created everything that I have for myself right now being here and being around the people here.

"I loved it. I've had a great time. Looking back, I don't think I would change anything. They made me who I am today and I'm thankful for that."

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