Arizona captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson had four wistful words for the Coyote faithful Friday morning before signing off from a video conference call with three other Pacific Division players:
"We miss you guys," he said when addressing the fans about the forced separation since the 2019-20 season was paused March 12. He was calling in from his Paradise Valley home.
And, indeed, there were more guys - and gals -- to be missed. Through the first 70 games of the 2019-20 campaign, the Coyotes, playing at a playoff-contending pace, were enjoying a surge in attendance, with nine sellouts thus far.
"I'm doing pretty good (though), Ekman-Larsson said, "I'd rather be playing hockey right now, but it is what it is and it's more important that we get this virus better and everybody feeling good and being healthy. I'm holding up pretty good, but it's hard to find ways to work out and stuff."
Ekman-Larsson said he's been doing a lot of running to stay in shape and his trainer recently dropped off some items to help boost his routine. "It's hard when you're used to working out with the team, so it's different for sure."
As for an analysis of the season, so far, he said: "I think bringing in some really top players in this league -- I feel like the expectations went up a little bit and the fans expected us to be a playoff team and that's what we want. We want to be in big games this time of the year. I feel like we've been taking some steps in the right direction and hopefully we can continue doing that. We know that hockey is big in Arizona and we've got to continue working hard and getting better."
Ekman-Larsson was joined by Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers, Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames, and Bo Horvat of the Vancouver Canucks.
The group got egged into a little friendly ribbing when asked what they'd miss the least about playing against one another during the hiatus.
McDavid did chime in with some highly esteemed praise, saying, "OEL's probably got the best stick in the league," to which Ekman-Larsson responded, "I'll take it," with a grin.
The Coyote captain was then hit with arguably the most hard-hitting two-part question of the conference.
If he had to pick one teammate to quarantine with, who would it be? He went with a fellow defenseman, and one that shares a locker room stall to the left of his at Gila River Arena.
"That's a tough one, I think I've got to go with a Swede, so I'm going to go with Niklas Hjalmarsson, if I had to pick one guy to be quarantined with," he said with a laugh. "He's a good guy and we could watch some Swedish TV shows."
Then came the tough part. Which teammate would be last choice?
"The least, I've got to go with Clayton Keller because he can't cook, he doesn't talk, he's only playing Fortnite, so I'm not really into that."
Youmay have seen the captain's Instagram postfrom just a couple days ago, where he's riding a leaping horse on a Scottsdale ranch.
"A lot of people thought it was fake, but I actually have a video of it too, so I was actually going to post that one in a couple of days just to show them that I can ride," he said. "I grew up around horses back home, my mom had a lot of horses, so I get up north here in Scottsdale once in a while just to clear my mind a little bit and wanted to show off a little bit."
As far as keeping in touch with teammates, he says the guys have a group text chain going on with each other.
"We haven't had any FaceTime or anything, it's more group chat and text, there's a lot of chirping going on in that group chat, so I've been thinking about deleting it because it's a lot of weird pictures and stuff like that," he said jokingly. "It's a lot of fun, it keeps you busy at the same time and you can stay connected, so it's nice to have."
He's watched his fair share of Netflix and Swedish TV shows during the pause, and requested further recommendations, but he's happy to have rekindled his abilities to produce in the kitchen, taking up a lot of cooking. "I can't remember the last time I did that, so there's something positive coming out of this, I guess. It's actually a lot of fun to make some different dishes and try to learn."
The call wrapped up with each player having an opportunity to send a message along to fans, to which Ekman-Larsson replied:
"I hope all the fans out there are safe and healthy, obviously we wish we were playing hockey right now, but this is more important that we slow this virus down and get back to living a normal life. We miss you guys."