The Interview: Erik Karlsson

Erik Karlsson during his time as Senators captain. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

This interview originally appeared in Sportsnet Magazine.

Sportsnet: You had 74 points last season, and I heard you were unhappy about it. That’s ridiculous. You play defence . . .
Karlsson: Yeah, I think everybody had a pretty tough season last year. I didn’t really feel that good about my game. There’s a lot of things that I’m gonna have to improve.

SN: Like what? Because sometimes when you’re moving the puck out of the zone, for example, it looks easy. Almost like it might be boring for you.
Karlsson: [Laughs.] No, I wouldn’t say that. I struggle at times, too. If I don’t keep myself in focus and try and improve my game every day, I’m pretty sure I’m gonna fall off the ladder pretty quick. I do feel better now than I did last year. Hopefully as a team we can do better.

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SN: You shoulder a lot of responsibility. Offence, defence—you’re relied on for a lot.
Karlsson: That’s what I’ve brought upon myself. I want to be that kind of player. I want to have responsibility. I want to be a big part of everything we have going on.

SN: More than ever, you’re the face of this team now, with Jason Spezza gone. What’s that pressure like? Did you say, “Jason, don’t go!”
Karlsson: Yeah, “Don’t leave me!” We were close friends and had been ever since I got here. On the personal side it’s tough to see him go, but he felt it was the right time to move on in his career and I respect that. I’m excited for whatever it has to bring for me.

SN: What were you like in high school, back in Sweden?
Karlsson: Well, I was probably not the best student ever. Small concentration problems here and there. I actually quit school fairly early to play hockey as a professional. I’m happy I did that and it worked out for me, but I’m pretty sure when I have kids I’m gonna force them to go to school.

SN: Are you recognized as much in Gothenburg as you are walking around the streets of Ottawa?
Karlsson: Compared to Ottawa I’d say no, but people do recognize me back home as well. I come from a fairly same-sized city as Ottawa; I know a lot of people there since I’ve been there for a long time. But I would say I can be a little bit more myself when I walk the streets in Gothenburg.

SN: I have to ask about Swedish cuisine. I know pickled herring is really big there. That’s an acquired taste . . .
Karlsson: [Laughs.] Yes, we have a lot of fish. I live right on the ocean, too. But I would say lunch is the biggest difference between the food here and back home. Over here it’s sandwiches, it’s lighter. Back home, we have a full meal every day for lunch. And usually it includes fish.

SN: I see you nominated [PGA Tour pro and Ottawa native] Brad Fritsch for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
Karlsson: Yep. I’m good friends with Brad. He’s a really nice guy and we keep in touch over the course of the year; he watches me and I watch him. It’s always fun to play golf with him. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to play hockey with me yet. We’ll see when that time comes.

SN: Are you a good golfer?
Karlsson: I love golf—I wouldn’t say I’m a great golfer but I enjoy the game, and most of my friends play, so that’s what we do to spend time together.

SN: Do you ever Google yourself?
Karlsson: No, I do not. I stay away from that, even though there might be some good stuff—but I’m pretty sure there’s bad stuff, too.

SN: You’re very well-dressed. Who’s your fashion inspiration?
Karlsson: Ooh, do I have to say [Henrik] Lundqvist here or what? [Laughs.] No, I mean, he dresses really good—he lives in New York, he’s seen a lot. It’s one of the things I like to do; I like fashion. I like to dress well. I wake up every morning and try and figure out what I’m going to wear.

SN: How long does that take?
Karlsson: Not very long. I’m not very picky actually, I just go with emotion and sometimes I mismatch stuff. Sometimes I look good and sometimes I don’t.

SN: Do your teammates rip you when you don’t?
Karlsson: Pretty much. I get a couple comments every day about something I wear. But I’m pretty confident. I wear a very European style: very tight suits, tight jeans, tight T-shirts. That doesn’t always go over well with all the North American guys.

SN: There’s a lot of talk about your hair. How long does it take to style it?
Karlsson: Not long at all. I’m at a point right now where I don’t really care that much. I just let it be as it is and sometimes it sits great. It’s apparently one of my things now, so I can’t really cut it.

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