WATERFORD, MICH. - Although Dylan Larkin is turning 21 this weekend, it wasn't that long ago that he was a little boy skating at Lakeland Ice Arena in Waterford.
So it was a natural fit when Brad Martin, who runs the Lakeland Hockey Association and Lakeland Ice Arena, asked Larkin and his brother, Colin, and his cousins, Adam and Ryan, if they were interested in doing a hockey camp.
All four Larkin boys eagerly agreed to do it and the Larkin Hockey School was born.
"A lot of us that are doing this camp grew up right in this rink and it is cool to come back and give back to these kids that are hopefully going to follow in our footsteps," Larkin said following an afternoon session. "We all have moved on through the hockey ranks and all of us are playing (or have played) college hockey. I hope we're setting a good example and we're having fun with the kids. It's been a good response in both years doing it so it's a lot of fun for us."
Other guest coaches are Mike Chiasson, Darren Brady (Rochester Institute of Technology), Charlie Curti (Yale), Drew Dorantes (Ferris State), Tyler Dorantes (Ferris State), Bryce Hatten (Miami Ohio) and Chase Sereno (Oakland).
Martin said when he was younger, Pat LaFontaine was growing up in Waterford and was for him like Larkin is for these young kids.
"It was just an honor to meet him and know him over the years," Martin said. "I've known (the Larkins) since they were little. It's been great fun. They're all awesome kids. You deal with Dylan a lot but all of them, they're brothers, not cousins. They're unbelievable guys. It's just so cool."
Martin said he originally thought the Larkins might agree to doing one week but instead they wanted to do three weeks. They just started their second week and the third one takes place from Aug. 8-11.
"Last year it was amazing, the hype of when we were building the registration online," Martin said. "I sent an email saying it was going to go live at two o'clock and it was like watching the ticker tape parade. In the first hour, I think there was like, 96 registrations. They were all time-stamped. It was just amazing. Because the owner of the rink's like, yeah, it's not going to sell out. Watching the numbers, it's like tick, tick, tick, refresh, refresh and the numbers just kept jumping and jumping. Almost 100 percent capacity for the three weeks."
Larkin was delighted at the impressive response they got for their new hockey school.
"To see these kids out here just enjoying hockey, they're sometimes crazy and they don't wait in line very well but to see the smile on their face when they make a good play or are out there skating around with their buddies, it's priceless," Larkin said. "Hopefully we can do it for as long as we can."
The kids who participated in last year's camp got first priority for this year's edition.
One of those returning campers is Zachary Brennan, 8, who moved to Michigan a few years ago.
"Some of my friends told me about this and I really wanted to go here so I'm like, 'Hey, Mom! Hey, Dad! Can I sign up for the Dylan Larkin camp? I heard it's really popular,'" Brennan said. "Then my mom and dad said, 'OK. When is it?' I said when it was and they took me here.
"I did last year for Dylan Larkin camp and I really liked it. Dylan Larkin holds the fastest record in skating so I can't believe I'm skating with him. It's very cool that I get to skate with an All-Star."
Brennan said he has taken one thing he's learned at hockey school to heart.
"Skating," Brennan said. "You have to skate to play. If you can't skate, you can't play."
Naturally, the kids have a lot of questions for the Larkins, especially for Dylan, so on the third day of each camp they have an off-ice question and answer session.
"There's some funny questions," Larkin said. "A lot about other teammates and a lot about what's it like to be a Red Wing. I think it's valuable that I share that. I think how I feel about where I came from and what I'm doing now playing for the Red Wings, I would have liked to hear it at their age and I think it's pretty cool for them."
Larkin said the kids always want to know how he made the U.S. National Team Development Program, how he got a scholarship to play at Michigan and how he made it to the NHL at such a young age.
"It really came down to work ethic," Larkin said. "These kids have a lot of distractions and school is the most important part but you got to be willing to shoot extra pucks at home and when the ponds are frozen, you want to be out there for a couple hours or as long as you want. I really preach it because it can't come from anyone else, it just has to come from the kid himself and that's when you get something special.
"When their parents are forcing them to do it, I'm sure it's not fun for them but if it comes from within, that's when something special could happen."
When the kids learn these things from their coaches, they pay attention, but when it comes from Larkin, a young star for the Red Wings, it makes the biggest impact.
"I use a lot of stuff that Dylan Larkin uses," Brennan said. "I use his celly (goal celebration), I use some of his moves. I really like him. He's my first favorite player. Alex Ovi (Ovechkin) is my second because I met him when I was two.
"It's an unbelievable feeling just being with Dylan Larkin and the Larkin family. It's just the most amazing thing anybody could ever wish for."