A trip to a beautiful golf course may help the Detroit Red Wings on the ice.
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Dylan Larkin is poised to be named team captain before the 2021 season. It hasn’t been announced yet by general manager Steve Yzerman, but it’d be shocking if it was anyone else. The two have bonded since Yzerman returned to the Wings in April 2019, chatting regularly about what it means to be a good Red Wing, what it means to do things right.
One of those things is making sure a teammate feels welcome, feels like he is part of the camaraderie.
When newcomer Bobby Ryan called Larkin in November about a solo golf outing to Arcadia Bluffs, Larkin had a better idea. He recruited Tyler Bertuzzi and Robby Fabbri to make it a foursome.
“So we made a golf trip out of that,” Ryan said. “I got to play some golf with the guys. Those are little things that add up. Larks didn’t have to do that. I was just asking about what’s up in that area and he came back and said, ‘I’m taking you.’ ”
It is the kind of thing a captain does.
“I wanted to make him feel as included in the team as possible,” Larkin said. “When I heard he was going up there—one, I love going up to Arcadia Bluffs and golfing. It’s a safe way to be around the guys and do something outside. Two, it was a great opportunity to bond and for Bert and Fabs to get to know him and make him feel welcome and included with the team.”
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Jerome Bettis, Larry Burns, president and CEO of Children’s Hospital of Michigan Foundation, Dustin Johnson, Dylan Larkin and Paige Spiranac at the 2019 Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club. Photo by Junfu Han/Detroit Free Press
Larkin and Ryan have spent some time at training camp working on the same power play unit. But with COVID-19 raging, teammates aren’t spending as much time together off-ice as they normally would. Still, the two have developed a bond.
Larkin was the one Wing Ryan reached out to after Yzerman approached him about a one-year deal—an opportunity for the 33-year-old to reboot his career after a tough year. Ryan missed three months of the 2019-20 season undergoing treatment for alcohol abuse and then was bought out by the Ottawa Senators.
Though he was far from a hot free-agent commodity, Ryan didn’t immediately say yes to Yzerman. First, he called Larkin and asked about the guys in the locker room: Had losing so much left them listless?
Larkin convinced Ryan that a last-place finish hadn’t eroded the culture of which the Wings are so protective—the one nurtured by Yzerman during his 20 seasons as captain. The one that has been the topic of their chats.
“My conversations with Steve since he has come back to the Red Wings have always been about being a good teammate, being someone that is a good professional, someone that is proud being a Red Wing,” Larkin said. “Doing it right. Working hard.
Gallery: Former Michigan hockey players on NHL rosters (SMG)
“For me, buying into that, it’s not something that’s hard to do. It’s something that the past leaders that I have been around in this locker room have done and they’ve done every day. I’ve tried to bring that every day.”
Larkin, 24, has a tremendous inner drive. Ryan saw that firsthand when he took part in informal skates ahead of the start of camp.
“I knew he was a little jerk to play against, but the compete level that he has in every drill, in every three-on-three game that we’ve played — his intensity, it’s overwhelming,” Ryan said. “It’s a very, very good thing to see. So I think he has impressed me the most in that regard. That’s a heck of an asset to have in a young guy, that compete level.”
Larkin apprenticed under Henrik Zetterberg, the Wings captain who retired in September 2018. Larkin was a good two-way player a year after being drafted 15th overall in 2014, but Zetterberg made Larkin understand he needed to be a great 200-foot player. It’s why the Wings had Larkin play on a line with Zetterberg as a rookie in 2015-16, and why it’s been crucial to Larkin’s development.
“I’ve talked about Dylan lots during my five years that I’ve coached him,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “Dylan is a great person. He’s got great attributes that the winners always have. He’s highly competitive every day. He’s worked extraordinarily hard. He’s got that inner drive that it takes to be elite at any level, and then he’s just a really, really good person. It doesn’t surprise me that Bobby would say good things about Larks in those areas because that’s who Larks is. I think Bobby would appreciate Larks’ approach and the type of person Larks is.”
Ryan can also say good things about Larkin as a golfer: The four split into teams, and while Ryan and Fabbri won one day, Larkin and Bertuzzi won the other.
It isn’t just Larkin who has impressed Ryan. He described the Wings as “young and refreshing. It’s a very light locker room, which works well for me.
“I’ve been here for seven weeks with these guys. They come to work every day with the intention to be competitive and get better. That’s all you can ask of a team that is going through that transition. A much more positive team than I thought it would be. They’ve last year be last year.”
Larkin described the 17-49-5 record the Wings endured last season as “one of the hardest years of my life. And then you had to sit at home for 10 months and think about it, and all the things going on in the world.”
A summer of workouts improvised to make up for closed gyms segued into autumn. Then Yzerman made a trade and scoured free agency, and suddenly the Wings had new players in Marc Staal, Jon Merrill, Troy Stecher, Thomas Greiss—and the guy Larkin had advised personally: Ryan.
“For his decision on coming to our team, he reached out to me, which was something I was happy he did,” Larkin said. “I was really pulling him for to come to our team. When he decided to sign, I was fired up. I thought he could really help our team and be a great addition to our locker room.”
The Wings look like they will be more competitive this season, with renewed hope. The Stanley Cup still looks years off, but then, it took 14 years for Yzerman to win his first Cup.
Larkin, too, has a long-term plan.
“I want to be a great player in this league,” he said. “I want our team to be a great team that is respected and back in contention for the Stanley Cup every year.”
Contact Helene St. James at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. MORE:
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