There are great summers.
And then there is the kind of off-season that Erik Karlsson has enjoyed — one that even the greatest of Hollywood script writers would find difficult to match.
The James Norris Trophy, a new seven-year contract with the Ottawa Senators and a wedding to his hometown sweetheart ... all of it in about a three-week span. Yes, Karlsson will tell you, life can't get much better than that.
"This summer is probably going to be hard to follow up on," Karlsson admitted with a grin after an on-ice session at the Bell Sensplex earlier today. "It's probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I'm probably never going to do all those three things again at the same time ... it's probably going to be tough (to top). It's probably going to be one of the best summers I've been a part of."
The hockey part of all of this, of course, came on the heels of one of the most productive seasons compiled by a National Hockey League blueliner in recent memory. The 22-year-old native of Landsbro, Sweden, totalled 78 points (including 19 goals) in 81 games — the most by a defenceman in the league since seven-time Norris winner Nicklas Lidstrom produced 80 for the Detroit Red Wings in 2005-06.
Karlsson's point total, which also erased a Senators franchise record held by Norm Maciver since 1992-93, was a whopping 25 better than the next-highest number produced by an NHL blueliner (Dustin Byfuglien of the Winnipeg Jets and Brian Campbell of the Florida Panthers). At the other end of the ice, Karlsson led all league defencemen in takeaways and improved his plus-minus rating from -30 in 2010-11 to +16 last season.
That overwhelming set of statistics led to Karlsson becoming the first Senators player to win the Norris Trophy, which is presented annually at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas. Karlsson earned that honour the day after he agreed to the contract which will keep him in a Senators jersey through the 2018-19 season.
At the time, it was a series of events that Karlsson found difficult to put into words — especially the Norris honour, which he earned in just his third NHL season. But he's allowed himself plenty of time to reflect on it all over the summer months.
"It's been a big summer for me," said Karlsson, the Senators' top pick (15th overall) at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft held at Scotiabank Place. "It's been a lot of things happening and they've all been positives. I've had a great summer and I've reflected more on it than maybe I did back in July. It was a great feeling and it still is. It's something that I'm very proud of and I'm going to remember it for a long time."
Then there was the July 7 wedding ceremony back home in Gothenburg, where he first met his new wife, Therese, before heading overseas to join the Senators for the 2009-10 season. They were married on what Karlsson called a perfect weather day.
"She's from Gothenburg as well," said Karlsson, who played with the Frolunda Indians of the Swedish Elite League in his homeland's "second city" before embarking on his NHL career. "We met there eight months before I came here. She's been here (with me) the whole time. She probably knows more about the city than I do.
"It was a really good wedding (day). It was a good party and everybody was really happy. It's something that's going to go high up in my (memories) for a long time."
On the ice, Karlsson knows that, in the wake of the breakout season he enjoyed in 2011-12, he'll need to take it up another notch in the campaign ahead.
"It's going to put a lot of pressure on me," Karlsson said of the expectations he'll feel as a Norris Trophy winner. "I think people are going to expect more and I'm going to have to deliver more. That's the way it is and it's a step that you're going to have to take if you're going to be (an elite) player. Hopefully, I can deal with it.
"I want to improve my overall game and I'm going to keep doing that for the rest of my career."
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