EDMONTON — “I’m in a really good place right now.”
Adam Larsson was speaking over the phone from his new home in Seattle, but this wasn’t about fish markets and Starbucks. This was about life, recovery, and the moment that made it impossible for him to return to the Edmonton Oilers as a free agent this summer.
“You learn to live with it,” he continued. “That’s the route you go, I think. You never stop thinking about it, but you learn to live with it.
“It was a tough three years, and the memory still comes back. But I’m in a good place now, mentally.”
Just 50 years old, Robert Larsson was a fit, former NHL draft pick and Swedish professional hockey player who had arrived in Edmonton with his wife to watch their son Adam play hockey. They checked into their hotel after a transcontinental flight from Sweden, and while Adam was on the practice ice with the Edmonton Oilers, Robert went out to stretch his legs.
Minutes later, just a few blocks away inside Rogers Place arena, a coach skated over to Adam mid-practice, said very few words, and Adam was gone. His father had suffered a heart attack, and it was fatal.
“It was tough on all of us. My family that were there when it happened. My sister, being there at that point,” said Larsson, who would spend the next few weeks arranging for his father to be flown home, then subsequently attending his funeral while trying to fulfill his duties on the Oilers blue line.
Late that night Adam — then just 25 years old — posted on Instagram, “Dad. I love you. Always had. Always will.”
Later that season, Larsson was selected as the Oilers nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy. He said this to the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson:
“I think of my dad all the time, every hour, every minute. It’s going to take some time. I’m not going through this alone. My mom, my brother, my sister… So it’s not only my emotions that are important. When something like this happens you have to take care of your family.”
If this tragedy had happened in New Jersey, the team that drafted him, or anywhere else, Larsson likely would be an Edmonton Oiler today. But the fates chose Edmonton as the place where Larsson’s family would suffer this deep and unexpected loss, and that was a big reason Larsson spurned the Oilers offers during free agency and chose Seattle instead.
“It was tough to come back. That was a big factor, for sure,” he said. “It was a real tough decision, and I felt like I had to do it for my personal well-being. I feel like there was nowhere else to get a fresh start.”
Larsson was not scheduled to play Tuesday night in Edmonton when the Kraken met the Oilers in preseason play. But being back in town reminded him of what he had been a part of. Of all the difficult years after being traded in a controversial deal for Taylor Hall, when the team’s talent level could seldom live up to outside expectations from fans and media.
“I loved my time there. The guys, I made some lifelong friends there,” he said. “Even the negotiations… What Kenny (GM Holland) offered, it was really good. This was not about (money). It was about family.
“I just wanted to make the right decision. It had nothing to do with money.”
What if close friend Oscar Klefbom, whose shoulder injury has jeopardized his career, had still been an active player in Edmonton? Would that have made the decision to leave more difficult?
“It’s tough to say,” Larsson allowed. “We all missed Klef when he was gone — he was such a big factor on the ice. And a great friend to me, coming into the team.
“But that thing still happened. It would have been tough (to return). The same memories would apply.”
So Larsson will take his hard-edge, abrasive and effective game to the Pacific Northwest, leaving behind a team that is, perhaps, finally ready to accomplish something again in Edmonton. It will be fun for him to play against the Oilers, and bittersweet should they get to where they’ve wanted to go for so long now.
“They have so many good players, so many good people. I love all the coaches there,” Larsson said. “It’s not a surprise that they’re going in the right direction.
“They are still super good friends who I wish all the best. Not against us, but I would be happy to see those guys be really successful.”
His No. 6 is gone already as well, scooped up by Kris Russell, who lost his number when the team announced it would retire the No. 4 in honour of Kevin Lowe.
Larsson smiled when told that Russell had usurped his uniform number.
“If there was one guy I would let have it,” he said, “it would be him.”