By Andrew Bell
After spending the past few months in his home country of Sweden, Arizona Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson is ready for a return to the ice.
The Coyotes, who are back training at Gila River Arena, are in anticipation of a season restart at the beginning of August amid the Coronavirus pandemic.
On Tuesday, the Coyotes captain spoke to the media, highlighting his trip back home, his fully recovered knee, and the play-in series with the Nashville Predators that lies ahead.
“For us to get a chance and show that we are good enough to be a playoff team, I think that’s huge for our group moving forward,” Ekman-Larsson said. “We are just focused on Nashville right now and it’s going to be some really tough games against them.”
Just prior to the beginning of 2019-20 training camp, Ekman-Larsson had an offseason knee procedure to help a previous lower body injury.
He was dealing with the recovery process throughout the regular season, but with the hiatus due to COVID-19, the Swedish blue-liner exclaimed that he was back at 100 percent on Tuesday, with the break giving him time to heal.
“I had the knee surgery right before the season started and it didn’t really get back to 100 percent,” Ekman-Larsson said. “These two and a half months have been really good for me. My knee is feeling 100 percent and I’ve been able to get stronger and faster.”
Additionally, Ekman-Larsson was able to take full advantage of ice time back home. Various nations around the world have had their own procedures on how to handle the pandemic, and in Sweden, they have been using herd immunity.
The country was not on lockdown, and the Yotes’ captain was able to skate and workout frequently with no restrictions. Upon arriving back in Arizona, he was quarantined for a week and tested for the virus up until he was cleared to return to the ice in Glendale.
Ultimately, the choice to go back to Sweden resulted from Ekman-Larsson wanting to be close to family during an uncertain time. He worked out, stayed at home, and had many family games of table tennis during his time in Europe.
“I stayed over here (in Arizona) for a couple weeks after the pause and I didn’t really feel comfortable without my family. That’s when you really know that you need to be around your family,” said Ekman-Larsson of deciding to leave the United States. “It was really nice that we got to go home and spend some time with them…We tried to hangout as much as we could and it just felt really good to be around them.”
Now back in Arizona, the captain is ready for a return to the postseason – a setting he hasn’t been a part of since 2012. That year was Ekman-Larsson’s only year in the playoffs, and he hasn’t been back since. The Yotes’ were eliminated in the Western Conference Finals but during that run, they took down the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Although it’s eight years later and the playoff atmosphere won’t be the same with no fans at a neutral site, Ekman-Larsson has been long-awaiting an opportunity to take a run at Lord Stanley, and he’ll get his shot beginning with the play-in round against Nashville.
“It just feels like it’s a different game. Everybody feels faster and stronger. I don’t know how it’s even possible but at the same time it’s another level,” Ekman-Larsson said of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. “I’m glad that I’ve had the chance to be in the playoffs before. There’s so many good teams and you don’t really know when you are going to have the chance. I’m very excited to be on that side again and it’s going to be fun to get that feeling.”