Adam Larsson is back now after two trips home to Sweden, the first to mourn and the second to bury his father Robert, who died on a visit to Edmonton to watch his son play hockey.
“Even ‘til the last day, we talked hockey,” Adam said Monday. “Every single day.”
Larsson’s parents stay up ‘til all hours back home to watch every game he plays live on TV. Robert was a defenceman for Skelleftea, eventually drafted by the Los Angeles Kings. Adam played for the hometown side as well, but has surpassed Robert’s level of play over here, en route to a long NHL career.
“(We were) very similar, in a lot of ways,” Adam said. “He was calm. He had some self-(discipline) that carries over to me. He was a funny guy. He will bring some good memories, positive memories for me and for my family.”
It’s been a long Edmonton winter, with a failing hockey team, the axe hanging low over the front office, and lately a couple of local tools who found their 15 minutes of fame by videoing themselves chirping Connor McDavid on the way out of a restaurant.
But those who have unexpectedly lost parents at an early age, as Larsson did when his father passed at just 50 years old, would know how far off kilter Larsson’s world has been these past few weeks.
“Let’s face it,” began his coach, Todd McLellan. “When you’re our age (McLellan is 50, Larsson is 25), you’ve dealt with family issues. It could be many – deaths, financial … Things that don’t go right in your world. It could be with your children, your parents.
“That’s called life. Life isn’t fair. Life is tough.”
At a time like this, these NHL players aren’t any different from us. When a father comes over from Sweden to watch his boy play, and has barely been in town for a day when the son is pulled off the practice ice to deal with an emergency phone call.
When they hold a vigil at their father’s bedside for most of a week, hoping for a miracle, the lights and beeps and numbers flashing on a bunch of hospital equipment we don’t understand. When the doctors call the whole family to the quiet room, and you all know why you’re walking down that hallway.
The only difference is, a dentist or sports writer doesn’t have to go back to work in front of 18,000 critics, as Larsson will when he returns Thursday against the New York Islanders.
“No, but (a dentist) probably doesn’t have 30 people around you every day helping me out,” Larsson reasoned. “That’s the positive side for my job, that we’re very fortunate to have.”
Larsson says he finds it cathartic to finally be back in Edmonton, with the funeral behind him. It’s been a long haul. You can’t blame him for wanting to find some normalcy again.
“A funeral brings backs a lot of emotions and memories,” he said. “That was two tough days I had at home, and hockey will be good for me down the stretch.”
“To have his father come over here and not even see him before he basically passes, that’s a tough, tough thing for anybody to go through,” McLellan said. “And it doesn’t end there. It’s ongoing when you (die) in another country. You’ve got to get back to your original home and there are a lot hoops to jump through. A lot of extra, extra work that happened in Adam’s world. We respect the fact that he’s been emotionally drained for a month now.”
Today, Taylor Hall will hold a conference call with reporters across the National Hockey League. Larsson, through no fault of his own, will be referenced as the defensive defenceman who went the other way for a player who will appear on many Hart Trophy ballots this spring.
Larsson’s season, like almost every one of his teammates, has been muted. His partner from last season, Oscar Klefbom, has been a disaster from start to finish, though he scored the overtime winner in a 4-3 win over Arizona last night, Klefbom’s first goal in 33 games.
Klefbom’s erratic play has left Larsson struggling to do more than he is capable of. He is still a plus player — truly a feat on this Oilers club — but as Hall stretches his personal points streak to 25 games, the deal struck by Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli appears more and more ridiculous.
None of that stuff matters to Larsson this week, however.
He’s back, playing hockey, and beginning life without his father.
It stinks. No matter what you do for a living.