By @MichaelCaples –
For Dylan Larkin, a whirlwind 2014-15 hockey season isn’t over yet.
The Waterford native played in his first professional hockey game last night, suiting up for the Grand Rapids Griffins just four days after signing a contract with the Detroit Red Wings.
Larkin, who recorded two shots in his new No. 25 Griffins jersey, said while a win would have made the night better, it was still a great experience. The Griffins fell to the Utica Comets 2-1 on the road to start their third-round playoff series.
“It was good,” Larkin told MiHockey via phone today. “It was a tough loss and a tough game to play in, but you know, I loved playing for the Griffins and it was pretty cool to have my first pro game.”
He admitted that he was fighting some nerves prior to puck drop.
“I was pretty nervous,” Larkin said. “It was only my third day with the team, so, still getting used to the routine and the guys, so, it was pretty tough and I was a little bit nervous for the game itself.”
Suiting up for the Griffins was the latest in a long list of accomplishments for Larkin this season. He was named Big Ten rookie of the year after his lone season with the Michigan Wolverines after recording 47 points in 35 NCAA games. Halfway through his freshman campaign with Michigan, he was named to the NHL.com all-tournament team at the 2015 World Juniors with Team USA. Then, at the conclusion of the Wolverines’ season, he suited up for the American squad at the IIHF Men’s World Championship in the Czech Republic following his collegiate season.
The wild year continued on Thursday when he decided to forego the rest of his college career and officially sign with the Red Wings – the NHL club that drafted him No. 15 overall last summer. Larkin signed an amateur tryout contract to immediately begin skating with the Griffins, and his three-year entry-level contract with the Wings will officially begin for the 2015-16 season.
“Yeah, it was pretty cool,” Larkin said of the moment he officially signed his name on his new contract. “I kind of felt relieved to finally make a decision, and go along with it. Obviously it was one of the days that I will remember for the rest of my life.”
The decision to leave school wasn’t any easy one for the 18-year-old.
“Yeah, it was probably one of the more difficult decisions of my life,” Larkin said. “It was tough. I’m going to miss it. I think it will all work out, and I’ll always be a Wolverine. Hopefully one day I can go back and finish school.”
Larkin said that his experience at Worlds – his opportunity to compare himself with NHL-caliber talent – wasn’t a solidifying factor in his decision, saying it was decision made over the few days leading up to the contract signing between him and his family.
“Probably a day or two before, you know, I didn’t really know, I was still thinking about it and weighing the options and talked to my teammates at Michigan and I just kind of made the decision.”
The Belle Tire and U.S. National Team Development Program alum said his time with the Wolverines was something he will cherish.
“It was great,” Larkin said. “A lot of fun. Just one of the best seasons I’ve ever had playing hockey. I don’t think it can get much better than that. It was a great year.”
But now, he’s trying to adjust to life as a professional hockey player – during the AHL’s Western Conference Finals, no less. After playing in his first AHL game last night, he’s got another one to play in tonight, as the Griffins try to even their third-round series with a Game 2 win before returning to Grand Rapids.
“It’s been good,” Larkin said. “The guys have been pretty welcoming, made it easy on me, and I’m just trying to get a win tonight, that would be great. That would help.”
He’s enjoying his time with new coach Jeff Blashill, as well.
“It’s been good. I’ve already learned a little bit for him. He’s an impressive guy and a good coach, so it’s been good. We’ve had a good relationship.”
And while the aforementioned coach is expected to be in Detroit next fall, Larkin said he hasn’t discussed his next step with the Red Wings brass just yet.
“I don’t really know,” Larkin said when asked about Detroit’s plans for him. “Pretty much, I’m just looking to play and obviously the goal is to play for the Red Wings but I don’t really know what the plans are.”
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