Photo by Michael Caples/MiHockey

Athanasiou impresses Red Wings in NHL debut

Photo by Michael Caples/MiHockey
Photo by Michael Caples/MiHockey


By @StefanKubus –

DETROIT – “Just try to bear down and do the best I could to win the draw.”

That’s how Andreas Athanasiou described his first face-off in the National Hockey League. Certainly face-offs are a routine part of the game – Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg has taken 238 just 14 games in – but it helps illustrate the anxiety and excitement that comes with an NHL debut.

After impressing in the preseason, Athanasiou didn’t have to wait long for an opportunity in the NHL, as the 21-year-old became the 151st Grand Rapids Griffins player to make this NHL debut in Detroit’s 4-1 Sunday afternoon loss to the Dallas Stars.

“It would’ve been nice to win my first game, but you only get one first, so it was an exciting moment, a little bittersweet,” Athanasiou said.

“It’s exciting. Obviously, this is your dream as a kid growing up. Everyone wants to play in the National Hockey League, so to be able to play today was a big accomplishment for me.”

Playing a defensive third-line role, Athanasiou logged 9:36 of ice time, recorded a pair of hits and blocked a shot, to boot.

But what particular aspect of his game easily stood out most, as what did in the preseason, was his speed.

“Once we recalled him, let’s see what he can do, and I thought he did a really good job,” Wings head coach Jeff Blashill said. “I thought he provided speed, I thought he had a number of good opportunities… He’s dangerous because of his speed for sure and I thought he did a great job of stopping on the puck and being on the right side of the puck.”

For Athanasiou, a former fourth-round pick of Detroit in 2012, it would’ve been much sweeter to see his team grab two points, but it was still a moment he was able to cherish.

“You’ve played the game your whole life, but it’s your first game in the National Hockey League,” Athanasiou said. “Obviously, there’s going to be butterflies, so it was good to happen, but it would’ve been a lot better to get that win.”

Athanasiou, who skated with Teemu Pulkkinen and Joacim Andersson, even earned praise from the 35-year-old Red Wings captain. It was the first line that came to Zetterberg’s mind as one that created offensive opportunities Sunday.

“Double A came in today, played his first game, and I think he played really solid an that line had some chances,” Zetterberg said.

“He played well tonight, came in, had a lot of speed, and I think that line created a lot of momentum for us. They created lots of chances, and most of the time they ended up in their end and got a face-off, so the next group started in their end, so they definitely did a good job.”

Athanasiou said knowing the coaching staff and most of the players he skated alongside made it a bit more comfortable adjusting.

“They’re really supportive, it’s a great group of guys, so it’s always fun to be around.”

On the previous day, Athanasiou was taking part in a Griffins’ team-building activity: paintball.

“We had a team paintball yesterday, so I was there, just trying not to get hurt.”

Wrapping up a whirlwind 48 hours, it’s likely Athanasiou is sent back down to Grand Rapids when some of the bodies return in Detroit, but his future with the Wings certainly looks bright.

Photo by Michael Caples/MiHockey
Photo by Michael Caples/MiHockey