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Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson excited to be playing in Sochi Games

OTTAWA - The excitement of playing in the Olympics far outweighs any security concerns Erik Karlsson might have about the Sochi Games.

The Ottawa Senators defencemen will play for Sweden in Sochi, Russia, in what will be his first Olympic experience.

The 23-year-old is well aware of the security concerns surrounding the Games but doesn't believe there is anything to worry about at this time.

"There's a lot of talk about it right now, but I think it's going to be safe for us," said Karlsson. "When the time comes I don't think there's going to be any issues.

"Coming from Europe, you hear a lot of that every day so for me it's not anything new."

Karlsson has no fear for his own safety. And should Sweden advance in the tournament, Karlsson said his parents will consider flying in from Sweden to take in some of the action.

While Karlsson is looking forward to the overall Olympic experience, he admits it will be taxing.

"It's going to be tough mostly because of the travel and time change, but there's a lot of other players who are going to have to deal with the same thing as well," said Karlsson. "I don't think it's going to affect the game.

"It's an easy atmosphere to get into and get used to. It's always fun to play games that matter."

Karlsson is only one of two Ottawa players travelling to Sochi. Forward Milan Michalek will play for the Czech Republic.

While the Senators will support and cheer on their teammates, they admit to feeling some trepidation.

"The one concern is injuries," said captain Jason Spezza. "We had (Dominik Hasek) get injured at the '06 Olympics and that cost our team to make a run, but that's a one-off situation."

Karlsson has been instrumental to Ottawa's success this season. He's the Senators scoring leader with 12 goals and 50 points and leads all skaters in ice time, averaging just over 27 minutes per game.

"I think the travel and time change are the biggest hurdles for him," said Spezza. "He'll probably play less than he normally does for us and the excitement factor is there.

"Emotionally it can probably be a little draining for him if things don't go so well or even if they go really well for (Sweden)."

Bobby Ryan, who played for the U.S. at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, said the emotional toll can be almost as draining as the physical aspect of the tournament.

"For me it was much more mentally exhausting than physically and Sweden is likely going to be in the later stages of the tournament so it will get more physically demanding at that point," said Ryan. "In a tournament like that, every goal seems to be the end of the world or the best thing that's ever happened to you.

"When you get down in a big game or you're up in a big game it feels like the end of the world. I remember leaving games in the playoff series being absolutely exhausted emotionally and physically, but Erik's young so he should be fine."

The gold medal game will be played Feb. 23 and Ottawa doesn't return to action until Feb. 27 when it hosts Detroit. So even if Sweden advances to the Olympic final, Karlsson would still have time to make the necessary adjustments.

"Teams will all be dealing with their players coming back," said Senators coach Paul MacLean. "Anytime you can go to an Olympic Games you have to go and you have to go and enjoy it.

"When they get back here we'll give them the time they need to get themselves sorted out and get them ready to go. We think it's a great opportunity for them both to go and hope they both have great success."

Karlsson returns to Sweden every summer and says he's usually able to adjust to the time difference fairly easily and doesn't anticipate any problems in Russia.

"I think everybody's different, but I'm going to make sure I'm ready to play whenever I play," said Karlsson. "When I come back I'm going to try to be as fresh as possible.

"I don't know what I'll have to do, but I'll figure something out."

As for the rest of the Senators, they will have 10 days off before returning to the ice Feb. 19.

"I think it's going to be great for this team," said Ryan. "My last experience in Anaheim we sent nine guys to the Olympics and we came back and lost seven of eight and went from fourth in the conference to missing the playoffs and it was a huge swing for us.

"I truly believe having 20 guys here for us is going to really help this team. I'm looking at it as a huge advantage for this team."

NOTES—Craig Anderson will start in goal Thursday against the Tampa Bay Lightning . . . Centre Zack Smith and defenceman Chris Phillips didn't participate in practice Wednesday. Smith will play Thursday but Phillips is doubtful as he's nursing an unspecified minor injury . . . Thursday's game will be Tampa goalie Ben Bishop's first in Ottawa since being traded by the Senators to the Lightning last season.

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