There have been many Italian-Americans born in North America who came over to Europe to play professional hockey in the country of their great-grandparents, or even to join the Italian national team. When Italy hosted the 2006 Olympics, eleven players on their men’s national team were born in Canada or the United States.
But this time, there could be a player going the opposite way. On Saturday, a truly international player, Thomas Larkin, became the first-ever Italian-trained NHL draft pick.
Larkin? The name doesn’t sound as Italian as Bertuzzi, Luongo, Muzzatti or Orlando. Like his siblings, Larkin was born in London, England. His father hails from Boston, his mother is an Italian from Milan.
When he was four, the family moved to Varese, a town of 82,000, five kilometres from the Swiss border and 55 km north of Milan. It’s there where Larkin started to play hockey at age seven when his elder brother took him to the rink. Varese is one of the few hockey towns in Italy, which are all located in the northern part of the country.
Larkin grew up in Cocquio Trevisago, not far from the Pala Albani rink, and wore the bulldog jersey for several years until he left Italy as a 14-year-old to start his education in the United States. There, he attended the Phillips Exeter Academy, a known hockey high school, and two years ago switched from forward to defence.
But Larkin never forgot his Italian roots. He spent the off-seasons in Italy and represented his native country at the 2007 and 2008 IIHF World U18 Championship Division I.
The scouts were impressed by his size (1.96m, 6”5’), and his potential as a defenceman. “Grande Thomas” became the MVP of his Exeter team as the captain and reached the New England Division I final. He scored 14 goals and 38 assists, and was named to the All-League Team. He also played for the Boston Junior Bruins.
Playing high school hockey in New Hampshire, not far from his father’s native Boston, he was ranked 87th among North American skaters by the Central Scouting Bureau in their final ranking, improving 59 places in just three months. Eventually, Larkin was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the fifth round, 137th overall.
Even though Larkin has become a historic draft pick, he will continue his path and start his college hockey career at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York.
But before that, the 18-year-old will spend the off-season at home, with his family in Varese, and hopes to get invited to the Blue Jackets’ rookie camp.