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Red Wings Firsts: Mitch Callahan

Wednesday, 09.3.2014 / 12:00 AM ET / News
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Red Wings Firsts: Mitch Callahan
Rookie forward Mitch Callahan was one of nine Red Wings who made thier (Photo by Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT – Tuesday, March 25 was an exciting day for Mitch Callahan, who made his NHL debut when the Red Wings took on the Columbus Blue Jackets in what was then considered a battle of Eastern Conference playoff contenders.

It was a hugely important game in the standings for both clubs, who eventually filled both wild-card positions in the Stanley Cup playoffs. But Callahan, who grew up playing roller hockey in southern California, approached the experience as if it was his last.

“You’re never guaranteed a career in the NHL, so this could be my only game I ever have, so I’m going to take it all in and try to remember the most I can of it,” the 22-year-old right wing said before the game. “I’m just going to stick with what I’m doing because whatever I was doing in Grand Rapids got me here. I’m not going to change anything up, going to play the same way I have been playing, try my best to make sure this isn’t the last game I ever play.”

Ice hockey has made several inroads into California but it’s still viewed as a monumental achievement when a California kid reaches his hockey dream of playing in the NHL. At the time of Callahan’s debut, there were only five other California-born players in the league – Pittsburgh forward Beau Bennett, Anaheim forward Emerson Etem, Washington center Casey Wellman, Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik and Minnesota defenseman Jonathan Blum.

Callahan, from the city of Whittier – which is southeast of Los Angeles – made Hockeytown history, becoming the first California-born player, who was drafted by, and played for, the Red Wings. He was just the 30th California player in league history.

“It’s pretty surreal, with 30 guys playing in the NHL from California,” said Callahan, who was a sixth-round draft pick in 2009. “It’s pretty cool. … Lot of guys in NHL from California are my friends. It’s a pretty tight-knit hockey group down there.”

Callahan was originally called up Monday, March 24 to play in place of Todd Bertuzzi, who had missed the club’s previous game with the flu. But coach Mike Babcock indicated that both players would be in the lineup, and that Callahan would be the eighth Red Wings’ rookie to make his NHL debut that season, joining forwards Tomas Jurco, Landon Ferraro, Luke Glendening, Teemu Pulkkinen, and defensemen Adam Almquist, Xavier Ouellet and Alexey Marchenko.

Before his debut, Callahan erupted for a career-best 24 goals through 65 games with the Griffins, surpassing the 23 tallies he collected in his final junior season at Kelowna in the Western Hockey League. He’s a right-handed shot, and played on the fourth line with Joakim Andersson and Darren Helm.

Injuries were catastrophic for the Red Wings last season, who hadn’t seen that many young players make their league debuts for the franchise since 1990-91, when 14 rookies – Tom Bissett, Par Djoos, Sergei Fedorov, Dave Gagnon, Johan Garpenlov, Scott King, Gord Kruppke, Chris Luongo, Bill McDougall, Marc Potvin, Keith Primeau, Gary Shuchuk, Mike Sillinger and Bob Wilkie – played in their first league games. That season, only Steve Yzerman and Shawn Burr appeared in all 80 games when injuries forced the Red Wings to use a club-record 45 different players, including six goalies.

Callahan was the 37th player to dress for the Red Wing last season, which is the most since the same number of players appeared in the 1991-92 campaign.

A player who’s never shied from the rough stuff, Callahan, who averaged more than 127 penalty minutes over the past five seasons, developed his game under the tutelage of Griffins coach Jeff Blashill.

“It’s kind of funny because you look at the all the goals, none of them are real pretty,” Callahan said. “Just screening in front of the net, working hard in front of the net. I think I got four or five where the D shot it and it hit me. Just from working hard in front of the net and stirring it up and working hard.

“Not necessarily changing my style. Blash really wants me to have a better role on the team so fighting sometimes has to wait when you’re playing top-two line minutes and that’s OK. But that’s what got drafted in the NHL, my agitating and fighting ways. Hopefully I can do a little bit of both when I was here.”

Callahan finished the AHL regular season with the Grand Rapids Griffins with 26 goals and 18 assists and a plus-23 rating.

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EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - WSH 82 56 18 8 252 193 120
2 x - PIT 82 48 26 8 245 203 104
3 y - FLA 82 47 26 9 239 203 103
4 x - NYR 82 46 27 9 236 217 101
5 x - NYI 82 45 27 10 232 216 100
6 x - TBL 82 46 31 5 227 201 97
7 x - PHI 82 41 27 14 214 218 96
8 x - DET 82 41 30 11 211 224 93
9 BOS 82 42 31 9 240 230 93
10 CAR 82 35 31 16 198 226 86
11 OTT 82 38 35 9 236 247 85
12 NJD 82 38 36 8 184 208 84
13 MTL 82 38 38 6 221 236 82
14 BUF 82 35 36 11 201 222 81
15 CBJ 82 34 40 8 219 252 76
16 TOR 82 29 42 11 198 246 69

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
H. Zetterberg 82 13 37 -15 50
D. Larkin 80 23 22 11 45
T. Tatar 81 21 24 4 45
G. Nyquist 82 17 26 -2 43
J. Abdelkader 82 19 23 -16 42
M. Green 74 7 28 -6 35
B. Richards 68 10 18 4 28
D. Helm 77 13 13 -2 26
N. Kronwall 64 3 23 -21 26
R. Sheahan 81 14 11 -8 25
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
P. Mrazek 27 16 6 .921 2.33
J. Howard 14 14 5 .906 2.80