The Swedish hockey star on moving to Arizona, starting his own clothing line, and experiencing the Sochi Olympics.
Arizona Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson was born and raised in a small hockey town in Sweden, with long winters and cool summers. Today he finds himself living and playing in just about polar opposite conditions: the scorching Arizona desert. “It was tough the first year I got over here; I wasn’t used to the heat,” says the 24-year-old. “But at the same time, I loved it. It was just a big difference.” Oliver, who led all defensive players in goal-scoring a year ago, spoke with Travel + Leisure about living in Scottsdale, packing for road trips, and traveling for pleasure.
Where exactly in Sweden are you from?
I grew up in Tingsryd—it’s a really small town. Everybody who lived there played hockey. I played soccer, too. There wasn’t much else going on in such a small town besides sports.
Did you travel a lot for hockey growing up?
Yeah, I was all over Sweden for tournaments, so I got to see a lot of the country.
And do you travel back to Sweden much? If so, where do you go?
I usually spend my offseason back in Tingsryd. I get to go to Stockholm and Gothenburg over the weekends as well—I like to travel but I like to be home, too. So it’s nice to go back during the offseason.
Sweden and Arizona are pretty starkly different. How has that adjustment been?
It was tough the first year. I’m used to it being cold when it’s hockey season, and now I walk to the rink in shorts and a T-shirt. It is a bit weird. But I love everything about Arizona, and I’m really happy here.
Do you have any favorite going-out spots in Arizona?
There are a lot of good spots in Scottsdale. Ocean Club is a pretty good restaurant, and there’s a sushi restaurant called SumoMaya where you can eat and stay a while. Down in Old Town Scottsdale there are a lot of good nightclubs, too. We players don’t go out too often, of course [laughs].
You led all defensemen in goal-scoring last year, and you played for Sweden in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Do you find yourself being recognized in public now?
Hockey wasn’t all that big in Arizona when I first got here, but it’s starting to grow. If I go out walking in Scottsdale, people will come up to me and say hello. People recognize me more and more every year.
What was your impression of Sochi?
It was unbelievable. I didn’t expect much going there, but they did a really good job with everything around the town, and the arena was great, brand new. We also went up to watch Sweden's skiing team—and they won! Overall it was a good experience. They did a really good job hosting it.
Where, besides Arizona, is your favorite NHL place to play?
Well, it’s fun to go to New York and play at Madison Square Garden—New York is an unbelievable city, and there’s so much to do there—but Chicago is probably my favorite city to visit. Good restaurants, good shopping, and a good arena to play in. There’s always a big crowd in there, and it gets you going right away.
How do you pack for your road trips?
I’ll pack two suits, underwear and socks, a coat or jacket if it’s cold, a pair of jeans, and a nice pair of shoes. That’s usually all I need.
Speaking of clothes, you have your own clothing line, OEL. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Two friends and I started it two years ago. We’re selling hats and undies for men and women, and it’s fun for me to have something else besides hockey, especially during the offseason. It helps me clear my mind a little bit, and it’s going well.
How did you get into clothing?
I’ve always been into fashion and clothes. I enjoy dressing up nicely.
So what types of suits do you wear?
I actually have a tailor in New York, and I really like his suits. Unfortunately I can’t remember his name.
What is your one must-have travel item?
Probably my computer or iPad. It’s nice to watch a movie or listen to music.
And, finally: Where do you travel for pleasure?
I really like Spain. I’ve been to Barcelona a couple of times, and I really like it there. There are so many different spots to see, and it’s only like a three-hour flight from Sweden, if that. But it’s also so nice in Sweden during the summer that it can be nice just to stay there!
Chris Abell is a web producer and contributing writer at Travel+Leisure. You can follow him on Instagram at @buildingflavors.