Erik Karlsson's daughter, Harlow Rain, has known him more as the man on the screen than the one putting her to bed for the past month. That finally changed this week with the Sharks returning home from Arizona after a month-plus stay away from San Jose due to Santa Clara County's COVID-19 restrictions on contact sports.
The look of confusion from Harlow Rain, who was born five weeks earlier than expected in October 2019, was well worth it for the Sharks' star defenseman.
"She was a little bit shocked when she first saw me," Karlsson said Sunday to reporters. "She's pretty good with FaceTime and stuff now, so I don't think she really understood what was going on for the first 30 seconds or so. She's been really happy for the two days that I've been home."
There has only been one real problem since Karlsson came home. He might have messed with his daughter's sleep schedule a bit, but even that's well worth it.
"I kind of screwed up her nap system a little bit because she doesn't really want to go down, so my wife isn't too pleased about that," Karlsson joked. "It's been great. Even though they require a lot of energy and a lot of focus, I think it's something that you embrace. At the end of every night you go down a happy man.
"For me personally, being home her entire life and then being gone for one month with her changing so much, it was a blessing. I'm extremely happy that I got to go back home and see her again. It feels really good."
On Friday, the NHL announced it was postponing the Sharks' games vs. the Vegas Golden Knights in Glendale, Ariz. on Monday and Wednesday due to four members of the Golden Knights, including three coaches, being isolated as part of the league’s COVID protocols. The Sharks then took an early flight back to San Jose to finally be with their families.
The Sharks practiced at their home facility Sunday for the first time this season. But the franchise ran into another COVID-related issue Saturday when the San Jose Barracuda’s exhibition game against the Henderson Silver Knights was cancelled due to COVID-19 protocols. The game occurred in Las Vegas. However, a handful of players who had been on the Sharks’ roster or taxi squad earlier this week were dressed in Saturday's Barracuda game.
After a brief stint with their families here in the Bay Area, the Sharks are set to hit the road Friday and play two away games against the Anaheim Ducks, and then two road games against the Los Angeles Kings. They then are scheduled to play their first true home game at SAP Center in San Jose on Feb. 13 against the Ducks.
Karlsson admitted he could tell the mental toll was starting to weigh on him and his Sharks teammates, whether they had families or not. They were away from their homes for over a month, forced to stay in an Arizona hotel away from the world. That will wear you down, no matter your age or family situation. He believes being home now could be a key motivating factor for the Sharks on the ice going forward as well.
"It's been tough," Karlsson said. "Getting these five, six days at home here with some practice time and just being able to go home after practice and eat lunch and dinner in your kitchen is gonna be refreshing, and from a mental standpoint I think that's going to motivate everybody.
"We still got a lot of work to do to play better as a team but this gives us the best opportunity to do that."
The Sharks are 3-5 this season, which has them in last place of the stacked West Division. It hasn't been easy on or off the ice for Karlsson and the rest of the Sharks. Getting a slice of normalcy in what has been a year beyond bizarre for all of us might be exactly what this team needs.
"It makes you feel better, and it makes you feel like you're a better husband and a father," Karlsson said. "That's hopefully gonna rejuvenate the focus here to focus even more on the hockey part, which is why we're here in the first place.
"It was definitely nice to come home and have a couple days at home here to get settled in a bit."