Earlier this week Karlsson and his wife Melinda announced their son Axel had been stillborn.
The news left his teammates, community and numerous fans heartbroken for the young couple who were excited for the arrival of their first child.
Karlsson missed the Senators’ last two games and had been told to take as much time as he needed to grieve the loss.
Teammates were surprised and pleased to have their captain back on the ice as they prepared to take on the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night.
“Obviously, he makes us a better team, but more importantly he’s a part of this family here, he’s a brother to all of us,” Mark Borowiecki said. “We can’t even imagine what he and Mel are going through, but to have him here, guys are giving him hugs, happy to see him. It’s really uplifting for us.”
Borowiecki hopes being back on the ice and surrounded by teammates will give Karlsson some comfort.
“I think any time you have something personal and you’re away from a group of guys who you’re so close to it definitely hurts a little bit. To see him in here smiling, talking to the guys is pretty special to see and obviously we’re just happy to have him back,” he said.
The mood around the Senators has been sombre all week. And while Karlsson did not address the media, the immediate effect his return had on the team was obvious.
“It’s hard, there’s nothing you can say or do to help other than just to be a good teammate and offer your thoughts and support,” said Matt Duchene. “That’s the hard part. You want to try and fix it best you can, but you can’t. I think the best way to do that is go out and play a good game as a team and get back on track and have him be a part of it and I think that will be really great for him.”
Head coach Guy Boucher anticipates a warm welcome for Karlsson when he takes the ice.
“You’ve got your own family and then you’ve got your hockey family,” said Boucher. “I think for the organization, it’s an opportunity for our players and our fans to embrace him back and give him the support he deserves. I think it’s one of those days where it means more than just the hockey and I hope we’re going to feel it tonight.”
Three weeks ago Hurricanes centre Jordan Staal and his wife Heather suffered the loss of their infant daughter Hannah, who died of a terminal birth defect.
In an interview with the Charlotte Observer, Staal said he tried to reach out to Karlsson to offer them the same kind of support and sympathy they had received when tragedy struck.
“It’s not easy,” Staal said. “You try to do the best you can and obviously take care of your family as best you can.”