SOCHI, Russia – These may be the biggest games Erik Karlsson has played in his entire life, but you would never know it when speaking with the Swedish defenceman. As is his wont, the 23-year-old seems completely unfazed about his role on the team’s top defensive pairing with Oliver Ekman-Larsson and the size of the stage at the Olympics.
“We play for important games,” Karlsson said Tuesday at Bolshoy Ice Dome. “Everybody knows there’s pressure and I think it’s all about how you handle it. It’s not something that I focus on. The biggest pressure comes from myself and I want to make sure that I do good. I don’t really try to focus on what other people say, what other people think.
“I want to make sure that I’m satisfied.”
With these Games being played on the larger international ice surface, Karlsson has a chance to shine here. He is at the forefront of a defensive corps that could rival Team Canada’s for the best in the tournament and he is seen by some in his country as the next Nicklas Lidstrom.
Those are obviously large skates to fill.
The legendary defenceman is remembered by those in North America for his remarkable consistency with the Detroit Red Wings, but at home Lidstrom is known for one shining moment: Scoring the gold-medal winning goal against Finland at the 2006 Olympics in Turin.
“I think I watched the whole tournament,” said Karlsson. “The thing I remember is probably the last goal in the final there when (Mats) Sundin and (Peter) Forsberg dropped it to Lidstrom and he scored top shelf. I definitely remember that one.”
It is the chance to create a similar lasting impression in Sochi that appeals to Karlsson. He is the kind of player that can bring fans out of their seats with his offensive skill, in particular, but he will need to be mindful of the play in his own zone with so much on the line in a single-elimination event.
Karlsson was in fantastic spirits ahead of Wednesday’s tournament-opening game against the Czech Republic. He has been reunited with former Ottawa Senators teammate Daniel Alfredsson and said that he was looking forward to spending some time together away from the rink again.
He was also eager to be front and centre at a major international tournament. Already a Norris Trophy winner in the NHL, this is the kind of situation he relishes.
“I want to be a big factor on this team and log a lot of minutes here as well and (make) a big impact,” said Karlsson. “I have to take the opportunity.”