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Unified Dream Team: Danny & Dylan

Dynamic Duo: Danny and Dylan speak to media following Poly Hockey Celebration.

“I look good,” said Danny Ristich, Special Olympics Michigan (SOMI) athlete, soliciting a big laugh from the crowd as the hockey goalie commented on the professional gear he was wearing following an hour of warding off pucks during hockey drills. 

The loudest laugh came from friend, Dylan Larkin, standing at his side as the two took questions from the media together. “Danny is always making Waterford very, very proud,” Larkin, Detroit Red Wings hockey captain said of this friend. “One of our local heroes.”

While Dylan praised his friend, Danny tossed some lighthearted jabs toward the NHL pro on his room for improvement. “I’m a goalie,” Ristich explained. “I didn’t let Dylan score any goals on me.” 

The duo – who both grew up in the Waterford area and shared a love of hockey from a young age – were reunited on the concourse of Little Caesars Arena (LCA) for a Poly Hockey Celebration. Poly Hockey – an adaptation of ice hockey, played indoors and off ice – is one of SOMI’s most popular sports. 

Danny & Dylan pose for a photo
Larkin (L) & Ristich (R) pose for a post-Poly Hockey Celebration photo.

“Danny and his team, they’ve been together for 30 years,” Larkin, an avid SOMI supporter, said. “Growing up in Waterford we have the Waterford Warriors, that makes me proud. Being able to support them means a lot to me. I am happy to see my other teammates here at LCA supporting them as well. It’s very special.”

Danny was just one of one hundred SOMI athletes invited to the Poly Hockey Celebration, presented by Gallagher

“It’s awesome to be here, try to grow the game of hockey and give our [SOMI] athletes some time to be at our arena, our home,” Larkin said. “And to see what it’s like here, watch practice and shoot around with us.”

After watching the Red Wings’ practice at Little Caesars Arena’s BELFOR Training Center, the Special Olympics athletes participated in a hockey skills clinic led by several Detroit players: Dylan Larkin, Alex DeBrincat, Jeff Petry, Daniel Sprong, Lucas Raymond, Justin Holl, Joe Veleno, Shayne Gostisbehere and Alex Lyon – along with assistant coach Jay Varady and head coach Derek Lalonde.

“It was fun getting to see moves, moves that I was studying and will get to use,” said Scott (Scotty) Fritz, a SOMI athlete on watching the Red Wings practice. “I enjoyed it because I am here with my [SOMI] friends, and then we are here with the [NHL] team we get to see play. Together get to have a little of our own fun, too.” 

Scott Fritz interviews with Detroit Red Wings
Fritz (R) answers questions to Red Wings communication team (L).

Fun – and some fierce competition – that will continue thanks to the generosity of Dylan Larkin and the Detroit Red Wings Foundation. The hockey captain donated $10,000 to SOMI for sports programming, and the foundation passed along more than 600 sets of new hockey gear.

While Danny and Dylan growing up never played on the same team, there is no question they now consider each other teammates and partners in the fight for inclusion. A shining example of the power of Unified Sports

“It’s just a great reminder there’s more to hockey,” Larkin said. “Connecting with our fans is very important. We need them. We’ve been hearing all day today how they support us. It means the world to us.”

While Danny and Dylan have been “teammates” for several years, many new relationships were formed as the playing field was leveled on the concourse of LCA. 

“We are a community,” Fritz said of his SOMI and NHL teammates following the Poly Hockey Celebration. “A community always works together, we all have fun, we are all there to help in any situation – we are there.”

This event marked the first of two Special Olympics Michigan Poly Hockey celebrations the Red Wings will host this year. The second event is scheduled to take place this fall at Detroit’s 2024 Training Camp in Traverse City.

High-resolution photos of the Poly Hockey Celebration can be viewed here.