EDMONTON — Oscar Klefbom is back home in Karlstad, Sweden, where he was raised, closer to family and embraced by a Swedish culture that differs starkly from our own, when it comes to social measures surrounding COVID-19.
“Gatherings of over 50 people have been banned, but private parties and corporate events can still take place,” the National Post reported on Wednesday. “Pools and libraries remain open. Kindergarten and elementary students are attending classes. The government has advised people to practice social distancing and told the elderly to stay at home. But for the most part, it’s life as usual.”
Klefbom’s life is anything but normal, however, as he finds himself on the wrong side of the pond one day before a scheduled Game 82 Saturday night in Calgary for his Edmonton Oilers. We spoke with the Oilers defenceman on a Zoom conference arranged by the team Friday, and the league-leader in blocked shots with 180 blocks — 17 more than second-place David Savard — and fifth in time on ice per game (25:25) spoke about getting some rest earlier than usual.
Sportsnet: Tell us about the Swedish reaction to COVID-19?
Oscar Klefbom: It’s different. Different countries have different tactics in tackling this major problem. It’s hard for me to sit here and say what’s wrong or what’s right. Sweden is going one way and we just have to figure it out because obviously it’s a bigger problem than hockey, it’s bigger than any sport.
We just have to try and make the best of the situation. I’ve tried to stay away from any older people and a lot of people. It’s weird, but I think it’s very important that everybody is taking this seriously.
SN: How and where are you?
OK: Right now, I’m back home in my apartment in Karlstad, Sweden. Weird times, like you said earlier. I’ve been up in my family’s cottage up north, tried to stay away from a lot of people obviously, and big crowds. It’s crazy times. What’s going on right now is very scary but it’s different to be home in March. This should be and I think it was the most exciting time of year for a lot of players. It feels weird to be home.
SN: Why go home?
OK: We were talking a lot, my girlfriend and I, and we both agreed going home with the dog would be a pretty smart decision (with) what’s going on in the world and a lot of borders were closing and if you would have waited any longer, maybe some borders would be closed and we would have a hard time going back. It feels better to be here in Karlstad with the dog and close to family and friends, even though Edmonton is a good place to be and we like it there. We would like to be here, close to friends and family.
SN: Introduce us to your dog
OK: It’s an Australian terrier, a smaller dog, and Mysan. In English, a cuddly dog, a nice dog.
SN: On defence, you guys answered the critics this year.
OK: I think so, for sure. Goaltending has been really good all year. If you’re going win the Stanley Cup and have a good playoff run, you need all the pieces to work. This year, we had most of our pieces working really good for a big part of the year. Obviously it feels like we had a good year from the blue line and myself, I think I played pretty solid.
SN: How late are you willing to play into the summer, and still start the following season on time?
OK: I heard Connor (McDavid) say that if we start playing again it’s probably going to be the best playoffs ever. Everyone is healthy and well rested. It would be very fun and very exciting to go into a playoff when everybody is feeling fresh. It’s tough to say. It’s going to be really weird to go in there and play until maybe late August. It’s going to be very weird, but you want to go into the playoffs. We deserve to be in the playoffs.
SN: What might change in the NHL when hockey does come back, as a result of coronavirus?
OK: It’s hard to say. If we go back and start playing again it feels like the league (and medical experts) really want to have this under control. They don’t want to go back playing, gathering all the crowds, 18,000 people, the pandemic is not really done yet and here we go again. People start getting sick. It’s going to take some time for sure. Obviously we want to play some hockey and we want the fans to come and watch us play as well, so if we go back playing, we want make sure we’re good to go.
SN: You had some injury problems again this season. How is your health?
OK: In these crazy times, one positive thing is that I have time to do whatever needs to be done to stay in shape and take care of the body. It’s tough to find good spots to work out. I like to go out in the countryside and stay in shape, go out for a run, or do some workouts here in my apartment. It’s easy to stay in shape, but you want to go back to Edmonton and start playing again. That’s what I’m living for, trying to stay in shape for. You want to go back and be around the guys, be in the locker room. Start playing.”
SN: Aside from hockey, what sport do you miss the most?
OK: I miss the golf. The Augusta National is usually a fun time. To be around some guys, watch the players play some good golf. I’m going to miss that. And the Euro soccer was going to be a big event this summer. I’m going to miss the soccer and the golf the most.
SN: How much chatting (chat groups) have the Oilers players done?
OK: We’re talking a lot, but it feels like new stuff is popping up every day. You have to be open-minded, because you can hear one thing one day, and then the (next) day it’s different. Everyone is feeling the way I do, I think. It’s really weird to be home at this time of year when you’ve been playing some good hockey, you deserve to be on the ice for the most exciting time of the year.
SN: Are there any players in the chat group who are more active than others?
OK: Darnell is our (NHLPA) rep for the team, so he is coming with most of the information. But it’s not really one guy doing all the talking, or having all the ideas. We are very equal as a group, and we all think the same about this. Obviously, this is way bigger than any sport — even hockey. We’ve got to be smart, but we want to get back playing — and that’s including the whole team.
SN: What’s it like doing an interview without being chirped by Adam Larsson from the next stall?
OK: (Laughs) it’s nice! Maybe I should go home with a laptop in Edmonton, when we start playing again. It’s different for sure, but I like it.
SN: Do you miss the Edmonton media?
OK: (Laughs) I miss the Edmonton media a lot, actually. I go to bed, talking to my girlfriend every night, ‘Oh, I miss Mark Spector a lot.’”