When played by mere mortals, the game of hockey can seem to be incredibly chaotic and complex. The puck skids and flutters about the outside edges of the rink like a drunken heroin junkie in a particularly incoherent Irvine Welsh novel; clattering this way and that off the sticks of men who are just barely able to control the vulcanized rubber monster for fractions of a second – before space, time and another similarly skilled lumberjack on skates forces them to whack the puck away again. It is a game of broken teeth, grinding hips and savage stick violence, played by crude Neanderthals from the frozen wastes of Canada – which is of course still a fantastic way to spend a goddamn Saturday night ripped on cheap alcohol and the chemical enhancement of your choosing. Even in its most base form, two professional teams of mediocre talent can provide a visceral, almost primal sort of pleasure for a half-in-the-bag spectator; so long as both squads are still desperately trying to maintain control of that little black disc that is.
Sometimes however, the right kind of player steps onto the ice and turns the rink on its head immediately; transforming a violent, brutish spectacle of raw willpower into something altogether more sublimely transcendental and almost spiritual in nature. Even the most slack-jawed, green horned neophyte to the sport will know when one of these mutant, god-like beings enters the game because the laws of time and physics will immediately distort around them like you’ve been dropping high quality hallucinogens by the fucking fistful. Mere seconds become elongated moments as a human being with seemingly preternatural vision, speed and muscle control dictates the flow of the game as easily as you or I might dominate a game of chess against winos shitfaced on Lysol in a city park. A player like this doesn’t have to take the puck, because the puck is magnetically attracted to his stick like a twenty-nine year old woman (wink, wink) clinging to the last son of a bitch who came in his own car on singles night at your local bar. Furthermore, once he gets the biscuit, the bedeviling bastard sure knows what to do with it; in the time it takes a normal player to make a decision and act, this majestic rink wendigo is already three iterations ahead of every other mutherfucker in the arena. He doesn’t have to think the game, because he already knows what’s going to happen next and the actions of mortals mean very little to a being that lives two heartbeats into our collective future. Nobody will have to tell you that you’re seeing greatness in real time; you’ll just know. For twenty five glorious seconds, whenever a player like this is on the ice; you will hold your breath and your soul will shake with anticipation – knowing that at any goddamn point during this next shift, you may see the face of god and experience true genius for half a moment frozen in time.
In the professional hockey racket, having one of these transcendent maestros of divine puckology is the singular greatest difference between competitive also-rans and teams that can win fucking championships. I know this because, like all Red Wings fans my age, my wretched soul has been blessed enough to watch precisely four and a half such wizards of the rink work their magic – Steve Yzerman, Sergei Federov, Nicolas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and on the nights it matters most but rarely otherwise, Hank Zetterberg. Not coincidentally, all four of the Stanley Cups the Wings have earned while I have walked this ball of dirt have occurred with one or more of these five men operating at peak, or near peak performance for the team. Sadly, time is a relentless mutherfucker who remains undefeated by even the otherworldly talents of genius hockey heroes; age, injury and retirement have claimed the Wings generational virtuosos one by one until all the remains are the dimming flickers of greatness Hank and Pavel can each muster up for roughly forty nights a year these days. The luster has come off the Red Wings, or so the story goes, because they no longer have an elite player who can warp the game around his abilities night after night – oh sure, they’ve got a playoff streak older than a third of the teams in the league, but they aren’t really bloody Cup contenders anymore, the analysts all remind us. Soon, even those two last stalwarts of Red Wing excellence will retire and after years of treading muddy water, the Wings will finally sink to the bottom of the fucking league because nobody can replace the Eurotwins. Everyone in hockey knows this, even the Red Wing’s legendary coach Mike Babcock could see the writing on the wall – that’s why he took the mutherfucking money and ran off to Toronto where top five draft picks grow on trees for fuck’s sake. If you don’t believe it, just look at every goddamn magazine, newspaper and hockey show in existence; they’ll all gleefully inform you that Red King is dead – he just doesn’t know it yet.
So yeah, about that end to Red Wing dominance nonsense folks; I think Detroit may have some astronomically fucking bad news for the rest of the league. After a mere two games in the 2015 NHL season, I’m absolutely positive you can throw all of these garbage narratives out the goddamn window because I have seen the Wings next great frozen assassin and his name, is Dylan Larkin. On Friday night and ironically in front of the same coach who suggested he couldn’t replace the elite, aging talent on Detroit’s roster; Larkin made his Motor City debut and it was completely fucking glorious. From the start of the game until Blashill finally reigned in the dogs to avoid embarrassing his mentor in the late second period, the entire match revolved around Larkin every time he stepped on the ice. Displaying superhuman speed, vision and the ability to be where the puck will be instead of where it merely is, the nineteen year old wasn’t just the best rookie on the ice – he was the best fucking player period, because the puck finds Dylan Larkin like a junkie finds ways to feed the damn monkey.
Just how good was he? Ten minutes into his first real game as a professional hockey player, Larkin already had his first assist and by his twenty-first minute in the NHL he’d scored his first goal off a goddamn ridiculous short side snipe while flying full speed down the wing– chasing his first goalie at this level in the process. Finally, he capped the night off just three minutes later by providing the passing outlet on a two on one rush to set up Justin Abdelkader’s hat trick goal. It was the kind of heady play made with ruthless intent you just don’t see in a merely mortal hockey player and although Abby kept the puck and scored himself, both the Toronto defender and goalie clearly expected the puck to go to Larkin. The really goddamn scary part is, after a just twenty four minutes of professional hockey and despite Abdelkader’s two prior goals, covering Larkin really did feel like the correct fucking decision at the time. Larkin’s presence did more than just draw defenders away from the puck however; his speed and vision fundamentally altered the entire chemistry of his line. With more room to operate in the slot, the sometimes plodding Abdelkader suddenly looked like a bloody thirty-five goal a year power forward and with another creative player to share the load, Zetterberg magically became five years younger in a way that only ever happens when he shares a line with Pavel Datsyuk these days. In my entire thirty fucking years as a proud fan of this franchise, I have only seen one other player as young as Dylan Larkin affect a game the way he did on Friday night and folks – that gentleman’s name is on the Cup three times but we simply call him “the Captain” in Motown.
Due to the arcane vaguaries of the NHL scheduling process, the Red Wings and Larkin were immediately back on the ice less than twenty-four fucking hours later in Carolina. Predictably, the team came out flat; chasing the puck and leaning heavily on young goalie Petr Mrazek to keep them in the contest for the first forty minutes. Even then however, Larkin was by and large the best skater in a Red Wings sweater; assisting on Zetterberg’s goal against the run of play and finishing the game a staggering plus three when the space he naturally creates helped Teemu Pulkkinen score a pair of goals after the Wings fell behind 2-1. By the end of the game, the Wings young skaters simply wore the Hurricanes down and while it wasn’t the most impressive win for the Red Wings, it was another impressive night for Dylan Larkin – Hockeytown’s next great dynamo has clearly arrived.
Mark my words and remember that you heard it here first ladies and gentlemen – Larkin will not be going back to the farm this season; even if it means waiving a player with NHL talent to keep him. If he stays healthy, he is abso-fucking-lutely going to beat out Conner McDavid and Jack Eichel for the Calder Trophy as this season’s rookie of the year. Larkin is also going to drag Justin Abdelkaeder’s hide across the thirty goal barrier for the first time and he’s going to help Hank Zetterberg stay healthier and more productive than Z has been in what feels like fucking forever. It gets better, because Larkin’s presence and the continued growth of very talented (but not genius) young forwards like Nyquist, Tatar and Pulkkinen, is going to have a cascade effect on the rest of the roster; if the team remains even remotely intact this year, the Wings are likely going to make a deep playoff run behind two and possibly three ridiculously fucking electric scoring lines. While the rest of the league chunters on about non-existent goalie controversies and the oldest players on our roster, Larkin and all the Wing’s young snipers are going to absolutely lay waste to the Eastern Conference. The kids are more than just fucking alright; they’re hungry for blood and the newest, youngest addition to the goddamn gang is the most ravenous of them all. The future in Hockeytown is right fucking now my friends, and the National Hockey League will learn to fear the goddamn name Dylan Larkin – especially that lying, greedy dipshit in Toronto who once said he wasn’t good enough to replace legends.
- Nina Illingworth