By Nick Barnowski –
DETROIT – The first chapter of Dylan Larkin’s NHL journey has begun, and surreal wasn’t even enough to describe how he felt writing it.
Playing in his first career NHL game, Larkin picked up a goal and an assist, helping the Red Wings to a 4-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the club’s season opener Friday night at Joe Louis Arena.
“I think it started right when I was named to the opening night roster and from there it was excitement and getting ready,” Larkin said. “It was a lot, but to win 4-0 and score my first goal, I couldn’t have it any better.”
Larkin’s first NHL goal
He was the first 19-year-old to make his NHL debut on opening night for the Wings since 1990, and he certainly didn’t look out of place. He finished plus-three with 6 shots, which led all skaters, and was part of a Detroit team that looked quick and skilled in its 2015-16 debut.
“I thought Dylan played very well,” Red Wings new head coach Jeff Blashill said. “I talked to him before the game and he seems pretty unflappable and extremely mature as a young guy. He seemed ready to go. I don’t think he pressed, I don’t think he tried to do too much, I thought he played hockey and he does it very, very well.”
He didn’t mind putting on a show for the 25 friends and family members he had at the game, many of whom came in from his native Waterford.
“We are thrilled,” said Larkin’s dad, Kevin. “A couple of years ago he was playing in Oak Park and watching some of the guys that are on the ice here today who were his idols, and now he’s playing with them.”
Larkin’s brother, Colin, was able to fly in from Boston to see his brother play.
“This is awesome and a cool experience,” said Colin Larkin, who plays hockey for UMass Boston. “We’ve been coming to Red Wings-Leafs games for years and it’s pretty surreal to see him in warmups and coming out of the tunnel with ‘Larkin’ on the jersey.”
Larkin said his mom told him it was the first time since his parents’ wedding that the whole family was able to get together.
“It meant a lot for them to come in and support me,” he said. “It’s a big deal and I’m glad it worked out for everyone.”
It didn’t take long for him to make an impact. Shortly after the pregame introductions – where he received one of the loudest cheers from the sold-out crowd – he set up Justin Abdelkader for the first of his three goals on the night.
“(Larkin) brings an element of speed, energy, hard on pucks, can really shoot and skate,” Abdelkader said. “I think he showcased his skill set tonight. He’s only going to get better. It’s one game but it’s great to see.”
He then became the first Red Wings teenager to score in his NHL debut since Steve Yzerman in 1983 early in the second, sniping Toronto goalie Jonathan Bernier over the blocker short side. It was the culmination of a play that saw Larkin fly through the neutral zone, receive a pass from captain Henrik Zetterberg, and beat a defenseman wide before finding the back of the net.
“I took a quick look and I had a lot of speed and I ripped it,” he said. “I think (Bernier) was cheating a little bit or off his angle and it worked out pretty well.”
Kevin Larkin said it was a moment his family would never forget.
“He’s scored a lot of goals but that’s one for the memory bank,” he said. “I give him credit. He’s worked hard to get to this point and he hasn’t been intimidated.”
While it was only one game, Larkin knows the season is a marathon, not a sprint, and is ready to prove himself again Saturday night against the Hurricanes.
“It’s a special night for me and I’m going to enjoy it for a little bit then get ready for Carolina,” he said.