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Coyotes’ Ekman-Larsson opens up about the loss of his mom

Arizona Coyotes' Oliver Ekman-Larsson emerges from the smoke during player introductions prior to an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. The Coyotes defeated the Flyers 4-3 in overtime. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s mom, Annika, battled cancer for 10 years. Through all the treatments, nausea, pain and fatigue, she soldiered on, attending her son’s games while he still played in Sweden, and making an annual, five-to-six-week trip to Arizona with her husband, Patric, once Oliver joined the Coyotes.

“I don’t think she ever missed a game,” Ekman-Larsson said Tuesday by phone from Sweden. “Even if she wasn’t there, she was at home, watching it on her computer.”

Ekman-Larsson knew his mom had taken a turn for the worse last summer. What started as breast and lung cancer had metastasized to other parts of her body. There was no trip to Arizona this season and once the games began, he knew his time with her was limited.

During the Coyotes’ “bye week” in early January, he flew back to Sweden to see her.

“I basically said goodbye,” Ekman-Larsson said. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”

Annika died two weeks before Ekman-Larsson took a leave of absence to be with his family for the final three games of the season. The funeral was three weeks ago.

“To be honest, it was kind of nice to have an end to it because she had been in so much pain,” he said. “You don’t want to see anybody suffering that much. She was such a strong person so at the funeral I was trying to remember everything we did together; all the good parts.

“It was nice to have family and friends there. It was beautiful.”

Those who watched Ekman-Larsson play last season knew something was off from the get-go. He suffered a broken thumb in November that he admitted privately. That news later came out, but as he continued to struggle with turnovers and a drop in production, the speculation turned outlandish, with some suggesting he wasn’t happy with his situation in Arizona and wanted out.

“Not true,” Ekman-Larsson said with a sigh. “I love being in Arizona.

“I know you guys have a job to do as reporters and I get your side of it, but at the same time, to have to stand there and explain what was going on when I couldn’t say was hard. I wanted to keep it on the down low for her sake, for privacy.”

Ekman-Larsson thought about going home earlier, but his dad and mom wanted him to stay and play. That was easier said than done.

“I don’t know where to start describing that,” he said. “It was nice to be around the guys and I think it made it little bit easier to battle through it, but it’s obviously hard to stay focused on hockey when you go through something like this.

“She got me skating when I was a kid and when I didn’t like it at first, she kept pushing me. She and my dad were at all the games, and she was the reason I played for Leksands Idrottsförening for two years. I was going to play for another team but she wanted me to look at that team, and I’m happy I did.”

Ekman-Larsson will head to Germany on Wednesday for the World Championships with Team Sweden. Following that two-week tournament, he will return home to Sweden until training camp begins.

He wanted to thank the scores of people who have sent him condolences via text messages or social media, but it has been too hard and too painful to respond to every one.

“I turned off my phone for like two weeks,” he said, “but it was really nice and I do appreciate it.

“It’s just been nice to get home and see everybody and figure everything out. I’m going to have to live with this every single day. It’s not going to go away tomorrow, or next year or in two years. It will always be there, but at the same time, it kind of feels good to put that behind you and know she’s not in pain any more.

“I’ll be ready for training camp. I’ll be ready to play. She wanted me to do what I love doing and I’m glad I did.” 

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