By @MichaelCaples –
DETROIT – There aren’t many ‘firsts’ left for Dylan Larkin when it comes to hockey, but he crossed one more off the list on Saturday.
Larkin, along with Vatteri Filppula, tried sled hockey for the first time.
“That was the first time,” Larkin said. “Really cool, really special experience. I’ve watched it in the Olympics and watched games as a kid, so it was fun to be out there.”
Larkin and Filppula strapping in alongside the Sled Wings was the final surprise for the group of athletes who will represent the Winged Wheel at the upcoming USA Hockey Sled Classic, presented by the NHL.
Photos by Michael Caples/MiHockey
The Red Wings welcomed the Sled Wings players down to the BELFOR Training Center on Oct. 26, telling the players they would get to practice on the ice after the Wings completed theirs.
Turns out, one of the locker rooms inside BELFOR was filled with new Red Wings jerseys with their names on them, along with new Warrior sticks and gloves and other DRW-related goodies.
Larkin and Filppula were joined by Justin Abdelkader, Mike Green, Frans Nielsen, Anthony Mantha and Dennis Cholowski to announce the surprise for the players. Abdelkader, the Wings’ ambassador for the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone initiative, met the sled players in the hallway to tell them about the gear, as well as the financial assistance the Wings are providing for the team’s trip to St. Louis for the Sled Classic on Nov. 21-24.
For the first time…probably ever…@Dylanlarkin39 wasn’t the fastest guy on the ice.
— MiHockey (@MiHockeyNow) October 26, 2019
From there, the Sled Wings and the Red Wings entered the locker room to check out the new gear, with the Sled Wings getting to show the NHLers how their unique equipment helps them compete on the ice.
“Yeah it’s pretty cool,” Larkin said of helping fellow hockey players from his home state get ready for the prestigious tournament. “It’s special, seeing these guys, they have the same passion for hockey as I do, as we do, and it’s pretty cool that we’re from the same state. To see them with the Winged Wheel on, they’re going to St. Louis to represent the Detroit Red Wings, and I know they’re going to do a great job of it, and it’s pretty special for us to partner up with Warrior Hockey and send them on their way with nice jerseys and new sticks and gloves. They look the part and I know they’re going to play hard and represent the Red Wings well.”
Video highlights from the Michigan Amateur Hockey Association
Tyler Anderson, one of the leaders of the Sled Wings team, didn’t have trouble summing up the experience.
“That’s a pretty special opportunity, a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing,” Anderson said after the practice. “It’s pretty neat for them to take the time out of their day to do that with us.”
“Definitely felt weird teaching the professionals how to skate on the ice.”
Marie Sly, the Michigan Amateur Hockey Association’s disabled hockey director, said it was a great day for the athletes.
“This is phenomenal. They get a chance to wear the Red Wings sweater, they’re out here practicing on the ice with two of the best Red Wings on the team right now – they’re having a great time.
“The fact that they’re leaving them in their dust on their sleds on the ice, they’re going to be talking about that for a long time to come.”
The gear donation was the latest contribution from Warrior Hockey for the Wings’ Hockey is for Everyone mission. Doug Todd, associate brand manager, said it’s always special to help players in Warrior’s home state.
“Yeah, the hockey is for everyone event is always our hallmark, the event we look forward to. the smiles that are on their faces, it’s all worth the planning and the effort that goes into it. To see them out here, having a great time, they get to meet some of the Red Wings players, we’re happy to help facilitate that with the Red Wings.
“It’s great. Warrior is based here in Michigan in the Detroit area, so anytime we can help out a local program that needs it, we’re happy to do it. It’s a great day, and hopefully this continues for us with our relationship with the Wings ins the future.”
As for the sled hockey itself, Larkin said he was surprised at how similar it truly is to the type of hockey he plays.
“I think it’s very similar. The only difference is that you’re on a sled. It’s absolutely the same, same rules, it’s really similar, that’s all I can say. It was actually shocking to feel the same way, you feel the same way as on your skates, and it was a pretty cool experience.”
He admitted that he couldn’t keep up with the Sled Wings, something you won’t normally hear from one of the world’s fastest skaters.
“They gave us a headstart at first, the experienced guys,” Larkin said of the races on the ice. “Then the next one, we all started at the same time and they blew us out of the water. Val had some technical difficulties starting, and I got out of the gate pretty hot, so, pretty good.”
And the praise from No. 71 and No. 51 was what stood out most to Anderson.
“They made comments on how it was difficult and they were giving us complements about the strength and the skating and the stickhandling all at the same time, using your arms for everything.”