Why gratitude is renewed focus for Detroit Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin

Detroit Free Press

LAS VEGAS — Dylan Larkin came into the season determined to enjoy himself after a challenging start to his tenure as captain.

That effort has undergone multiple tests, the most recent of which was a COVID-19 scare that left him pacing in a hotel room, then packing up and rushing to rejoin his Detroit Red Wings teammates. Larkin was pulled from Tuesday’s game at Dallas when a PCR test came back positive, but subsequent testing revealed he does not have the coronavirus, clearing him from pandemic protocol.

That set off a range of emotions from “disbelief and frustration” and then “the possibility of having COVID and trying to get out of there and not infecting anybody else,” Larkin said after Thursday’s morning skate at T-Mobile Arena. “I thought a lot about the guys and not having a bigger situation come out of it. It was an unfortunate situation.”

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Everyone else with the team was immediately tested, as dictated by NHL protocol. The league mandates vaccinated players are tested every three days, and unvaccinated players (of which Tyler Bertuzzi is the only one) are tested daily. There have been examples of how the virus can take hold around the league — the Golden Knights have dealt with an outbreak, and this week the Ottawa Senators had three games postponed after 10 players entered protocol. Last season, the Wings had five players enter protocol the first week of the season.

“We’re all relieved,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “Once it gets into your team, it seems to spread fast.

“Like a lot of people in the world, we all have a little COVID fatigue and wish it would go away, but COVID doesn’t seem to have fatigue. So we better make sure that we are vigilant. Given what has happened in the last bit, it adds to everybody’s heightened awareness.”

It was a relief for Larkin that ultimately he only missed the third period of the 5-2 loss to the Stars. He missed the second game of the season serving a suspension for retaliating against a hit from behind, and that was in response to what happened April 20, when Jamie Benn shoved his stick into Larkin’s spine, causing a neck injury that left Larkin in a brace for eight weeks.

There was no discipline on Benn, while Larkin spent the summer dealing with the uncertainty of how he would recover.

Larkin moved on from that, but then came a family emergency that necessitated he leave the team the first three games of November.

“There have been some difficult things going on,” Larkin said. “I was really hoping when I came back after the time away, I was really hoping to have that all in the past and to move forward. I’m looking to do that and be there for the guys and play really hard. That’s what I’ve been trying to do, and not worry about whether pucks are going in — just worry most about the team and play a good game for the team.”

Larkin had 23 points in 44 games last season. It was a disappointing time for Larkin, who came into the pandemic-shortened season with the honor of having been named captain by general manager Steve Yzerman. Larkin, and the Wings, expected a significantly better performance this year, and Larkin largely has delivered.

“He felt like he has more to offer and I think he has played really good this year when he’s played, and it’s been not that easy,” Blashill said. “It’s been a lot of stops and starts in terms of the games he’s been in and the games he hasn’t been able to play. I think he’s done a really good job of staying focus on what he can control and that’s his effort level, that’s his output in games, and he’s done a good job.”

The stress he endured last season led Larkin to want to play with more perspective.

“The highs and lows are pretty dramatic at times if you let them get to you, and  I feel at times I’ve let them get to me,” he said. “This year, I really worked on not letting that happen, whether it’s going well or not. Whether things come into your life and take you out of the lineup for a week, or you can’t play a third period — I’m really just trying not to let it get to me and be grateful that I’m here. We have a great team and a great group of guys that work really hard and we’re having a lot of fun and that’s what means the most to me this year.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. 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 AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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