Detroit — One of the last times Dylan Larkin had a game in the Upper Peninsula, it wasn’t so enjoyable.
“The farthest I’ve been (playing hockey) is Houghton, playing against Michigan Tech when I was at Michigan,” Larkin said. “It wasn’t the best experience. We got swept that weekend.”
Larkin and his Red Wings teammates are sure to have a much different type of experience Thursday.
The Wings and Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues are playing in the annual Hockeyville USA game on Thursday at the Calumet Colosseum.
The Colosseum — with seating for about 700 fans — was built in 1913 and is considered the oldest operating continuous-use ice rink in North America.
“It’ll be cool experience,” said Larkin of Waterford, one of several Wings who are from Michigan. “The people up there are fired up, it’s a big hockey fanbase in the Upper Peninsula. It’s cool that the Red Wings are part of it.”
Calumet — population 727 — is located about 30 miles south of Copper Harbor, at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula in Copper County. Calumet won the designation as this year’s most spirited hockey community in the United States after amassing the most votes in an online poll.
Because of that, the Colosseum won $150,000 in rink upgrades, $10,000 in equipment from the NHL Players’ Association Goals & Dreams program, and the opportunity to host the NHL preseason game.
NBC Sports Network will broadcast the game beginning at 7 p.m.
“I’m sure people up there are real excited, and it’ll be a fun day,” said defenseman Danny DeKeyser, a Macomb native.
Playing in a small public rink is going to be a throwback for many Wings.
“It’ll be weird,” DeKeyser said. “It’ll take you back to your minor hockey days. It’ll be fun. The building will be packed, a small barn like that. It’ll be fun.”
This experience might be most unique for coach Jeff Blashill, who grew up Sault Ste. Marie — on the other side of the U.P. — about five hours away.
Blashill played at the Colosseum, as well as many other cities all over the U.P., while playing youth hockey.
“I played in this arena, it’s awesome,” Blashill said. “It’s a great, great opportunity. I have some friends of mine that I grew up playing with who live in the Calumet area, or in Marquette, who are coming in with their kids, so it’ll be a fun thing.
“It’s great for the U.P., and great for Calumet.”
Blashill remembers memorable games between the cities in the U.P. while playing youth hockey. Cities such as Marquette, Calumet, Escanaba, Sault Ste. Marie and Houghton all have long, deep hockey traditions..
“You didn’t have to go all over the country; you could get great hockey right there,” Blashill said. “We had some great battles.”
The Wings are flying into the Calumet area Thursday morning, and holding their morning skate at the Colosseum.
There will be a red carpet entrance for both teams, a pep rally at the high school, and a viewing party at the football field.
“We don’t go up there that much, and the fans don’t see NHL hockey live so it’ll be cool for them,” Larkin said. “A lot of people will be excited, and we’re playing against a great team, so we’ll need to be ready.”
Getting away from the usual preseason experience to do something so unique is also an added bonus.
“It’s something different, a little bit of a change,” DeKeyser said. “It’ll be nice.”
Justin Abdelkader was scheduled to make his preseason debut Wednesday in Pittsburgh. Abdelkader has been nursing a minor injury and is hopeful of playing at least one more game this weekend.
… Frans Nielsen skated Wednesday and is likely to play one game this weekend, before the preseason ends, Blashill said.
But Blashill wasn’t as optimistic about Jonathan Ericsson (soft-tissue injury), who suffered a setback, said Blashill, and isn’t likely to play before this weekend. Ericsson’s availability for the start of the regular season is unclear.
…Given the quick turnaround to Calumet, Blashill watched Wednesday’s game in Pittsburgh from the press box, and assistant Dan Bylsma coached the Wings along with the Grand Rapids Griffins’ staff. Blashill will be back behind the bench in Calumet.
Blues vs. Red Wings
► Faceoff: 7 p.m. Thursday, Calumet Colosseum in the Kraft Hockeyville Game.
► TV/radio: 97.1 FM/NBC Sports Network.
► Outlook: It should be a memorable experience for both teams playing in the oldest ice rink in the country. … Both teams are expected to dress a close to NHL regular-season lineup. … It’s the second game in a four-game, in four-day, span for the Wings.