Karlsson calls out Cooke, but stresses the positives

Erik Karlsson has few kind words for Matt Cooke, but he’s doing his best to maintain a positive frame of mind.

Karlsson calls out Cooke, but stresses the positives
Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson meets with the media to discuss the injury to his Achilles tendon. (Wayne Cuddington/Ottawa Citizen)

Erik Karlsson has few kind words for Matt Cooke, but he’s doing his best to maintain a positive frame of mind.

The Ottawa Senators’ dynamic 22-year-old defenceman was in an upbeat mood as he spoke publicly Friday for the first time since having his left leg sliced by Cooke, the Pittsburgh Penguins agitator, on Feb. 13. With his left leg encased in a walking boot following Achilles surgery a week ago Thursday, Karlsson laid down his crutches and wore a smile throughout much of his 15-minute question and answer session with the media.

“I will be back,” said Karlsson, channelling his inner Arnold Schwarzenegger. “The question is when. For sure next season, but it’s tough to say right now. With my foot in the cast most of the time, I can’t do much with it.”

Typically, the recovery time for athletes returning from Achilles surgery is six to eight months. That’s the time frame which saw Anaheim Ducks star Teemu Selanne and former Senators Sami Salo and Dean McAmmond make a full recovery from their Achilles issues.

Still, Karlsson isn’t completely ruling out the possibility that he could be back in a Senators uniform in the event of a long playoff run. “You never know,” he said. “We’ve got to wait a couple of weeks to know how long it’s going to take.”

Despite his injury, Karlsson wants to be around the team as much as possible, but he refuses to wear a long face while doing so.

“I can’t get my head down because of this thing,” said Karlsson, who had six goals and four assists in 14 games and was generally regarded as one of the league’s top players before suffering the injury. “It’s just going to make me feel worse. I’ve got to try and stay positive. Every time I’m around the locker room, I’m going to be a happy guy.”

Karlsson’s smile faded, however, when he addressed Cooke. As much as he’s looking ahead, he believes the incident was avoidable. While he doesn’t believe Cooke wanted to slice his leg, he does believe Cooke wanted to hurt him – one way or another.

“I knew exactly who it was,” said Karlsson. “It could have been prevented. I don’t think he meant to cut me, but he meant to hit me hard, knock me out.”

Karlsson says he made a last-second move to try and avoid any damage along the boards, but, as events unfolded, he wasn’t able to completely escape the hit.

“His hands are high and he reached out his leg, which I don’t think he has any reason to do. He knows exactly what he’s doing out there that’s why I’m sitting here with my leg in a cast.”

Cooke sent Karlsson a text message the next day, but the Senators defenceman wasn’t impressed.

“I didn’t think much of it,” he said. “I didn’t reply.”

Cooke wasn’t made available to the media in Pittsburgh Friday.

When Karlsson does return, he will be doing so while wearing Kevlar socks. Similar to players who don visors after suffering injuries when hit in the face by pucks, Karlsson says he has a new appreciation for how dangerous skate blades can be.

“Since this happened to me, I’m probably going to do it,” he said. “It’s one of those things they’re going to have to keep looking at and try and develop something that will fit everybody. Right now, I think there’s only one kind of Kevlar sock. It’s tough for everyone to wear. Everyone’s different. I had no intentions of ever wearing it before. I don’t think it’s comfortable enough for me. Obviously, this is going to change how I look at things and maybe more guys are getting their heads up for this sort of thing. It sucks to get cut.”

Karlsson has not spoken directly to Selanne, Salo, McAmmond or anyone else who has suffered a major Achilles injury and subsequent surgery, but he has heard the comments that he should eventually be as good as new — “they say it sucks in the beginning” — providing he sticks to a proper rehabilitation program.

McAmmond, now retired and coaching his son’s team in British Columbia, says he endured a sixth month recovery when sliced by Eric Weinrich in February, 1994. His Achilles was cut completely, as opposed to Karlsson, who suffered a 70 per cent tear.

McAmmond never looked back when he returned.

“I was in a walking cast for a month or so and couldn’t do anything,” he said. “After that, you slowly start to try and get some mobility. It takes awhile. But when I came back, I don’t think I lost a step, skating-wise. The way I skated, it didn’t effect me. I think it’s more the (athletes) who need to jump that really struggle. After I came back, I was the fastest on the team (in skills competitions) until (Antoine) Vermette beat me in Ottawa in 2006.”

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