The Ottawa Senators’ extended family, its fans, and the hockey world at large took a pause Tuesday to rally around one of the sport’s brightest stars in a time of unimaginable grief.
Tributes poured in from Ottawa’s hockey community and beyond after it was announced Senators captain Erik Karlsson and his wife Melinda had lost their unborn child.
“The collective thoughts and prayers of the Ottawa Senators organization, the city of Ottawa and entire hockey community rest with Erik and Melinda Karlsson following the loss of their son,” the team said in a release. “We ask that you respect the family’s wishes for privacy during the grieving process.”
The couple appeared overjoyed to announce in November they were expecting the birth of their first child, posting the news on social media with a picture of Erik and Melinda Karlsson wearing matching “Dad” and “Mom” caps.
Melinda Karlsson wrote the caption: “First comes love, then comes marriage, then… Came the best news of our lives.”
Fans fawned over the city’s royal couple when they announced their engagement, again via Instagram in November 2016.
Melinda Currey shared a photo of the couple kissing, writing, “The love of my life for the rest of my life. Here’s to us babe.”
A second post showed an engagement ring propped up on a pizza, still in its box.
Karlsson replied: “Couldn’t be more proud to call her my forever. Without her I’m nothing. #shesaidyes.”
The couple were married in a star-studded affair August 5, 2017 at The Westin in downtown Ottawa, with a reception at the National Gallery of Canada.
And while fans got to share their joy in the couple’s happiest moments, they shared equally in their grief, rallying with the city’s sporting community, and the extended hockey community in support of the couple following Tuesday’s tragic announcement.
“A heartbreaking day for Erik and Melinda Karlsson losing their unborn son. Karl and Mel, from my family to yours, our deepest condolences,” wrote Dean Brown, the Senators’ radio voice in a post on Twitter.
“The most heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to Erik Karlsson, his wife Melinda, and their collective families in this time of grieving,” wrote his longtime broadcast partner Gord Wilson. “Words can’t express my sorrow.”
Tributes were quick to come in from fellow players as well.
“The players and staff of the NHLPA extend their condolences to Erik and Melinda Karlsson following the loss of their son,” the NHL Players’ Association tweeted. Several NHL teams followed suit, expressing condolences on Twitter.
The Ottawa Redblacks sent a simple message that seemed to resound on social media Tuesday night as fans, from casual observers to diehard true believers, attempted to digest the news.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Karlsson family,” the CFL team wrote in a release. “Ottawa is with you.”
“Absolutely heartbreaking about Erik Karlsson and his family. Sincerest condolences,” one fan wrote on Twitter Tuesday night.
“My heart breaks for Erik Karlsson and his wife Melinda. No parent should ever have to experience the loss of a child,” another fan wrote.
“Remembering how happy Karlsson was during the gender reveal video makes me cry,” wrote another.
The Karlssons shared an ultrasound picture on Instagram in late November, writing: “The most exciting news we have ever received arrived earlier this year. Can’t wait to meet you.”
They released a video, Karlsson barely containing his emotion as he revealed they were expecting a son.
One of hockey’s highest-profile superstars, with his talent, leadership, and charm, Karlsson, twice the winner of the Norris Trophy as the game’s best defenceman, quickly became one of the NHL’s most engaging superstars.
He also became something of an ambassador for the city of Ottawa, a mantle he inherited from his friend and mentor, former Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, who served as best man for Karlsson’s wedding.
The power couple most recently lent their considerable stature to the anti-bullying Proud to Be Me charity, serving as honorary chairs at a February gala.
“The city has Erik and Melinda Karlsson in their thoughts today,” wrote Coun. Tim Tierney, one of several local politicians to express their condolences.
For many, the game as it played out on the ice Tuesday night — the Senators hosting the Florida Panthers, with their hopes of a return to the post-season long-since dashed — didn’t seem to matter much in light of the tragedy developing away from the rink.
One fan named Chris Hansen referenced the team’s disappointing season — including a turbulent trade deadline when rumours were flying about the possibility of the captain’s imminent departure, along with the ensuing revolt among some fans over perceptions of the team’s ownership — all of it seeming distantly secondary to the news of Karlsson’s family tragedy.
“Amidst the turmoil going on with the Senators… (the news of Erik and Melinda’s son) really puts things in perspective,” he wrote. “There are much more important things in life than hockey.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Ottawa-born former NHLer Marc Savard, who sent his condolences to the Karlsson family.
“Today is a day to remember that there are way more important things in life and hockey is just a game,” he wrote.