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Toast of Hockeytown

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings
Fans lined up to meet rookie star Dylan Larkin at the Red Wings' 16th annual Toast of Hockeytown. (Photo by Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT -- There's no other event like Toast of Hockeytown.

Red Wings fans came out dressed to the nines to mingle with their favorite players, enjoy some of the finest wines in the world and best craft beers from the state and dine on fare from some of the hottest local restaurants.

The Joe Louis Arena ice was transformed into a beautifully lit showplace with silent auction items at the center and tables of food, wine and beer all around for the 16th annual Toast of Hockeytown, benefiting the Detroit Red Wings Foundation.

"I think Mike Ilitch does wonderful work in the (Red Wings) Foundation for the city of Detroit," Mikael Dalimonte said. "I live across the border in Canada, but I love coming to Detroit and I love the Red Wings. So it's cool just meeting all the players, they're like my heroes."

At 19, young star Dylan Larkin couldn't partake in some of the more spirited offerings but he was really too busy to do so as there was a long line of fans waiting to meet him.

"It was a great evening," Larkin said. "It's cool to see the fans anytime you get out at an event like this. It's my first time so it's pretty cool to interact with the fans and get to know a few people."

It was not the first time for Roman Czubatyj, a season-ticket holder who was one of the fans who waited to meet Larkin.

"It's nice to see the young guys coming out to play," Czubatyj said. "Also, obviously he's doing very well. He's got a great career ahead of him. So it's nice to see him at this young stage and also meet him later and compare and contrast everything he's done so far. He's got great energy so it's always fun to meet those people."

Larkin said more than a few people joked with him about how he managed to get into the over-21 event.

"I've never had wine so I don't know what it would be like," Larkin said. "I didn't have any drinks but it was pretty cool to come here and talk to the fans."

Among the live auction items were the gloves Larkin wore as he scored a goal in his first regular-season game against Toronto opening night. Those went for $6,500.

There were plenty of hockey-related auction items, including a trip with the Wings on Red Bird III, gift baskets with some of the players' favorite things and autographed sticks, pucks, skates and jerseys. There were also items from the Detroit Tigers, Lions and Pistons up for bid.

Captain Henrik Zetterberg has been to many Toast of Hockeytown events and he displayed that veteran knowledge by grabbing a seat at a table where he could meet his fans and take pictures with them in comfort.

"I noticed that. He's got that down," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "As soon as I walked in and saw him, I said he's no rookie."

Dalimonte is the only Wings fan among his brothers, all of whom are Montreal Canadiens fans, and he said Zetterberg is his favorite player.

"He plays hockey the right way," Dalimonte said. "He wins the face-offs, he's responsible defensively. I think his plus-minus for his career is over 160 (currently 163). He's a quiet leader. He makes the team play the right way. I can't remember which game it was, it was on the west coast, it was Vancouver, they were losing 2-0 and they come out in the third period and Zetterberg just took over the game and the team followed. That's what I like about the guy. He's such a quiet, humble guy, too."

Jonathan Ericsson has been to quite a few Toast of Hockeytown events and says he sees some of the same people each year.

"You get to chat for a few seconds at least and it's nice to talk to them," Ericsson said. "They're always really happy and smiling and have positive feelings and always wishing you well for the season. It's always just positive."

Blashill had attended the event before as an assistant coach but this was his first time as head coach of the Wings.

"It's great," Blashill said. "It's obviously a great cause and it's nice to be able to mingle in such a face-to-face setting and be able to meet such great fans. It's been real enjoyable."

For Larkin, his first Toast of Hockeytown was just another in a long line of memorable moments in his rookie season.

"The way it's worked out, I couldn't be happier," Larkin said. "Just before the season I was hoping to make the team and now I'm in the All-Star Game. I was playing on a line with Henrik Zetterberg. It's tough to keep going and ask for more when I feel like I've had it all. It's only halfway through the season, I still have another half. Just try to keep it going."

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