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For Dylan Larkin, a game of stress before the relief

Allison Farrand/Daily
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By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Writer
Published December 5, 2013

Dylan Larkin’s name echoed across Yost Ice Arena with the lights dimmed and the crowd silent. Unhurried and relaxed, Larkin coasted up to the blue line, glancing at himself on the screen.

He surveyed the crowd ambling in, first right, then left and then straight ahead at the No. 3 Michigan hockey team lined up across the ice.

The video screen went black, and then the video started. The pictures of Yost flew across, the bells toiled in the background as the voice reminded fans of the nine national championships and 24 Frozen Fours in program history.

Larkin leaned over to his teammates with a smile and then watched as the Wolverines were announced.

The forward from Waterford, Mich. has been here before. The U.S. National Team Development Program Under-18 team travels around the country to play teams, from NCAA Division I to the United States Hockey League, throughout the season.

But Thursday in Ann Arbor was different. Michigan wasn’t just another team. This was the team that he had signed his letter of intent with less than a month earlier and had committed to over a year ago.

This was a chance to make an impression in front of his future coach, Red Berenson.

But in his first action at Yost, Larkin’s nerves got the best of him.

He couldn’t handle the puck as effectively as some experts say he is capable of. He looked winded for someone his coach called a “great skater.” Nor did he put up any points after tallying 22 — 14 goals and eight assists — in 23 games prior to Thursday.

“You want to come in here and make a good first impression in front of coach Berenson and the fans and all that,” said NTDP Under-18 coach Danton Cole. “That’s a guy who is normally pretty calm and cool and collected.”

His team won regardless of his performance, earning a 5-4 overtime victory after trailing by two with three minutes in the third.

In one of his early shifts on the ice, Larkin was sent to the penalty box for interference, and nearly one minute later, he skated out with his head down to the bench after a Michigan goal.

Afterward, Larkin waited to return to the ice, then chased the puck, a chip on his shoulder and pressure to produce. Larkin skates better than any of his teammates. One minute he’s buried in the corner, the next he’s on the other side of the ice, looking to gather the loose puck.

“We tried to get him out on the ice as much as we could,” Cole said. “And that was easy because he’s a great player.”

Larkin never stopped moving in the game, even if he did move slower on some shifts. He scuffled with freshman defenseman Michael Downing, and he was there to push the puck for the third goal.

Underneath his helmet, Larkin smiled after the tally. This was how he envisioned things going, because no matter how much he struggles, Larkin’s determination still remains.

When Larkin finished talking with the media, after he had shaken the hands of parents and friends waiting to see him, he stood near the ice. Freshman forward JT Compher, a product of the NTDP, walked over to Larkin, both dressed in their suits. Smiles lit their faces, and they laughed. Compher talked while he put his arm around Larkin for a moment.

“You’re going to love him,” Cole said just moments earlier.

The Wolverines already do.