Find­ing his foot­ing in Cal­i­for­nia

Erik Karls­son re­dis­cov­er­ing his scor­ing touch with the San Jose Sharks

The Expositor (Brantford) - - SPORTS - KEN WAR­REN

SAN JOSE — On the ice, Erik Karls­son has re­dis­cov­ered the point-scor­ing magic that had dis­ap­peared for his first cou­ple of months in Cal­i­for­nia.

Off the ice, Ot­tawa may still be his off-sea­son home, but he has found his place in the San Jose Sharks loaded lineup.

“It takes awhile,” the for­mer Se­na­tors cap­tain and two-time Nor­ris Tro­phy win­ner said, tak­ing his time be­fore ad­dress­ing the me­dia late Satur­day fol­low­ing the Sharks’ 4-1 win over the Se­na­tors.

“There are a lot of things that you have to get ac­cus­tomed to, and I think it is be­com­ing eas­ier and eas­ier. I wake up ev­ery day and have more of a rou­tine. I don’t have to worry about too many things.”

In­deed, it is dif­fer­ent world for Karls­son. The age­less won­der, Joe Thorn­ton, is the cap­tain of a Sharks team over­loaded with tal­ent and ex­pe­ri­ence. The other Joe – Pavel­ski – leads with his points and his poise. Lo­gan Cou­ture, the long ago star of the Ot­tawa 67s, is as steady and solid as just about any two-way for­ward in the NHL.

And then there’s the big air sur­round­ing the big-bearded Brent Burns, who, as it hap­pens, was hon­oured for play­ing his 1,000th game be­fore the puck dropped against the Se­na­tors.

If any­thing and ev­ery­thing first passed through Karls­son in Ot­tawa, that’s cer­tainly not the case in Sil­i­con Val­ley.

“I know how ev­ery­thing works and that has been a big re­lief,” said Karls­son, who is a now a voice in the back­ground, no longer the go-to guy for re­porters want­ing ex­pla­na­tions for the Sharks’ suc­cesses or fail­ures.

“The guys in here have done a good job in not mak­ing me do any­thing I don’t want to and rush­ing me. They’ve been very pa­tient and we’ve been play­ing bet­ter as a team.”

That’s a colos­sal un­der­state­ment. The Sharks are now feast­ing on the rest of the NHL, cur­rently rid­ing a six-game win­ning streak, chal­leng­ing the Cal­gary Flames at the top of the ul­tra-com­pet­i­tive Pa­cific Divi­sion. While the Se­na­tors held Karls­son off the score­sheet Satur­day, for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive game, the for­mer Se­na­tors cap­tain saw his fran­chise-record 14-game point scor­ing streak come to an end ear­lier in the week. He had scored one goal and 24 as­sists dur­ing that span, climb­ing back to his fa­mil­iar spot among the top scor­ing de­fence­men in the NHL.

It prob­a­bly doesn’t serve as much con­so­la­tion for Se­na­tors fans, but the Sharks look back at their 6-2 loss to the Se­na­tors at Cana­dian Tire Cen­tre on Dec. 1 as a turn­ing point in their sea­son.

The Sharks were a dys­func­tional mess, on the cusp of a play­off spot, when Karls­son made his first ap­pear­ance back in the build­ing since the train­ing camp trade.

Karls­son nod­ded his head when asked if it was a wake-up call.

“A lit­tle bit,” he said. “We hadn’t played very good hockey, not to up to our stan­dards be­fore that. It was after that game that we re­al­ized what we needed to do to be suc­cess­ful and since then, we haven’t looked back.”

There were meet­ings, many meet­ings. Gen­eral man­ager Doug Wil­son took the un­usual step of be­com­ing di­rectly in­volved in the con­ver­sa­tions with play­ers.

Since leav­ing Ot­tawa, the Sharks have posted a 15-3-2 record.

“I don’t think it was just for him,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said of Karls­son and the gen­eral state of the or­ga­ni­za­tion. “As a team, we were not in a good spot at that point. We just de­cided for the group we had, we weren’t play­ing up to our abil­i­ties. We talked it out a lit­tle bit. Doug (Wil­son) came down and talked and we got it straight­ened out.”

Even though it might have looked like Karls­son had orig­i­nally lost his sticks in the move to San Jose, DeBoer in­sists the turn­around in his game was only a mat­ter of time. Echo­ing the com­ments of Se­na­tors coach Guy Boucher a day ear­lier, DeBoer says it was sim­ply about Karls­son set­tling into his dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment.

“I don’t think any­thing has changed,” said DeBoer. “He’s just com­fort­able. It was a big tran­si­tion off the ice per­son­ally and com­ing into a new dress­ing room, get­ting used to team­mates, get­ting used to how we play and how his game fits in­side our struc­ture. There were just 10-15 games of tran­si­tion in those ar­eas and since then, he has been ex­cel­lent.”

As for his re­la­tion­ships with Se­na­tors play­ers, Karls­son says “you’re still friends off the ice” and he ac­knowl­edges Satur­day’s game didn’t feel like a typ­i­cal game.

“It’s al­ways spe­cial and it’s still weird,” he said. “It’s prob­a­bly go­ing to be weird as long as I play some­where else.”

His drawn-out de­par­ture from Ot­tawa was awk­ward, in­clud­ing the ice-cold re­la­tion­ship be­tween him and Se­na­tors owner Eu­gene Mel­nyk dur­ing the fi­nal months of his time with the Se­na­tors. As for an­a­lyz­ing the cur­rent state of his for­mer team, he wasn’t about to touch that topic with a thirty-nine and a half foot hockey stick.

“I can’t re­ally com­ment on the way they’ve been go­ing or the way they’ve been play­ing,” he said, diplo­mat­i­cally. “I haven’t watched enough games. I don’t re­ally know how things work there now. Again, I can only wish them the best and hope­fully ev­ery­thing works out for the bet­ter.”

TONY AVELAR/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

San Jose Sharks de­fence­man Erik Karls­son shoots against the Cal­gary Flames dur­ing a game in San Jose, Calif.

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