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More hockey means more fun for Karlsson

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson is enthused about heading off to Raleigh, N.C., this weekend to make his NHL all-star game debut. The rest of his teammates, meanwhile, will take the opportunity to enjoy a much-needed break (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

His teammates are scattering in all directions for a much-needed break from the game.

But there is plenty of hockey still awaiting Erik Karlsson this weekend. That's just fine with the Ottawa Senators blueliner, who will head south to Raleigh, N.C., on Thursday to take part in National Hockey League all-star game festivities.

For a 20-year-old making his debut at the NHL's mid-season classic, it's definitely a time of excitement as he'll get the chance to rub shoulders with the league's biggest stars — even if it's just for a few days. 

"It's going to be fun to just hang around them and it's going to be fun skating alongside such skilled players on the ice at the same time," Karlsson said following the Senators' final practice before the all-star break today at the Bell Sensplex. "I'm really looking forward to it."

Other than the face there is a game scheduled on Sunday at the RBC Center in Raleigh (4 p.m., CBC), Karlsson's exact plans for the weekend aren't mapped out just yet. Teams are being decided in a hockey pool-style player draft on Friday night (7:30 p.m., TSN), with captains Nick Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings and Eric Staal of the host Carolina Hurricanes choosing sides.

From there, it will be determined who takes part in what events during Saturday night's Honda NHL SuperSkills competition (7 p.m., CBC). Karlsson, naturally, wouldn't mind being selected by Lidstrom, a fellow Swede and one of his hockey idols growing up.

"I don't know him at all," he said of Lidstrom. "I've never met him before, but I'm looking forward to getting the chance to meet him and thank him for the stick he gave me from the Olympics last year (Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson made the delivery). It's going to be fun to meet all the Swedish players I haven't met before.

"Of course, Lidstrom was (an idol). He's been really good for quite awhile now. I always watched Detroit when I was a kid growing up. I always knew who he was and that he was a really good player."

Karlsson would love to play even one shift beside the six-time Norris Trophy winner.

"Just to have it on tape as proof that you played beside (Lidstrom) would be pretty awesome," he said.

Karlsson is bringing his girlfriend, Therese, to Raleigh for the occasion and his family is flying in from Landsbro, Sweden, to be a part of his first all-star moment.

"It's going to be a very exciting and fun thing to do," he said.

While Karlsson enjoys the festivities in Raleigh, his teammates are looking forward to a break from the 1-9-3 slump they're currently mired in. The Senators don't play again until Tuesday, when they're in Newark, N.J., to take on the Devils (7 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200).

"Not having to think about hockey for the next few days is going to be a great relaxer," said forward Jesse Winchester. "It's been a hectic month, not a fun month, so getting away is something we need ... I'm pretty happy now and excited to have a few days off. I think most of the guys around the room would say the same thing."

Head coach Cory Clouston would rather jump right back into another game quickly after what he termed a solid effort in Tuesday night's 3-2 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres at Scotiabank Place. But he understands the value of a break for his players.

"When you play a game you think you can build off, from a coach's perspective, you'd like to get right back at it," said Clouston. "But looking at it from a player's point of view, some guys do definitely need a break. We have some bodies that are banged up and some guys who could use some time off. So we're going to use this break as a positive."

Around the boards

Centre Jason Spezza (shoulder) still isn't ready to put an exact timetable on it, but he believes he's drawing ever closer to returning to game action. "I'm going to need to take a couple of days of contact (first)," he said. "I probably won't play the first two games (after the break), but I'm hoping to get back after that. I've got to get hit a couple of times and see how it feels, then go from there. But judging how things have gone this week, they're going real well." ... After their visit to New Jersey, the Senators return home to face the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., TSN, Team 1200).

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