|Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson, who made his NHL all-star game debut last January in Raleigh, N.C., has already established himself as a candidate to do it again at Scotiabank Place in 2012 (Harry How/Getty Images).
Even all these months later, Erik Karlsson can smile and speak with a sense of wonder about the biggest highlight of his still burgeoning hockey career.
The dynamic Ottawa Senators defenceman won’t soon forget the January weekend in Raleigh, N.C., when he made his debut in the National Hockey League’s annual all-star game. And what an eye opener it was for a 20-year-old puck prodigy from Landsbro, Sweden, who found himself rubbing shoulders with many of the game’s biggest stars.
“Just going there and being in that atmosphere, being around everything that was going on and all the players who were there … I just had a great experience,” Karlsson, now 21, said with a smile as he recalled that weekend at the RBC Center in Raleigh. “Not only playing hockey, but being around everything that was outside of it made you a happier person just being there.
“That’s probably the best part of it, that everybody’s there for a good reason and everybody around it feels the same way. It just really lightens your mood.”
For Karlsson, it was also an opportunity to shed a different light on some of the opponents he battles fiercely on the ice throughout the season. And it’s amazing how even the most bitter of rivals can come across a little differently because of a conversation or some relaxing time spent together away from the game.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Karlsson said of the relaxed environment for the players. “You get to talk to other players and see how they have it (on their teams). You get more of a feeling of how things are done around (the NHL) and what you need to do to become a good player.
“Even though some guys are (a pain) on the ice, they’re awesome guys off the ice. That’s an important thing to know, too, that what happens on the ice stays on the ice. And off the ice, you’re a completely different person. It’s just fun to get to know everybody that way and talk to them.”
The annual all-star weekend comes to Ottawa for the first time this season, with the game itself set for Jan. 29 at Scotiabank Place. The festivities also include the Honda SuperSkills competition on Jan. 28, and the popular player draft to determine the team rosters, which occurs two nights before that.
"I know that Ottawa is going to do a great job of taking care of everyone and making it as good an experience as it can be for everyone — the fans and people who are coming to town to watch it and the players as well. It’ll definitely be something to remember." - Erik Karlsson
In addition, Fan Fest is set to fill the halls of the new Ottawa Convention Centre, with a number of other local activities also in the works.
Karlsson has no doubt that fans who join in the fun — whether they’re from Ottawa or travelling to the capital for the weekend — will be treated to a first-class show by the Senators and the city.
“It’s great, especially for the whole city and for our team,” Karlsson said when asked about all-star weekend coming to Ottawa. “Everybody’s looking forward to it a lot and it’s going to be a great event. I know that Ottawa is going to do a great job of taking care of everyone and making it as good an experience as it can be for everyone — the fans and people who are coming to town to watch it and the players as well.
“It’ll definitely be something to remember.”
And Karlsson, who currently shares the NHL lead in assists (16, with Daniel Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks and Brian Campbell of the Florida Panthers) and is tops among all league blueliners in points (17, tied with Campbell), is making a serious push to be there himself with what head coach Paul MacLean called “an elite level” of play.
“I like the way we play the game now,” Karlsson said about his strong season start. “It helps that we’re playing well — that makes every individual player better as well.”
Four other Senators — captain Daniel Alfredsson, centre Jason Spezza, forward Milan Michalek and blueliner Sergei Gonchar — are also on the 2012 all-star ballot. To vote for your Sens, log on to vote.nhl.com (on your computer or web-enabled mobile device) or text the player's last name to 81812.