Friday, March 11, 2016
Justin Abdelkader scores big goals for the Red Wings
By Larry Wigge
Timing is everything.
With the clock is ticking. The situation is tight and tense as to whether the Detroit Red Wings are to extend their consecutive streak of making the playoffs to 28 years.
On this night the Wings are playing the Winnipeg Jets. They have fallen behind 2-0. But, with a slick pass from out of the right wing boards, Justin Abdelkader finds star rookie winger Dylan Larkin out in front with a backhanded pass early in the third period.
Then, with the game tied and less than five minutes remaining, it was Abdelkader who was positioned in front of the net. GOAL. Wings win 3-2.
Abdelkader patrols the front of his net like Tomas Holmstrom, not as nasty, and he scored from around the net like Johan Franzen -- Red Wings he grew up loving.
Big goals? Abdelkader scored the winning goal with 18.9 seconds left in the NCAA championship against Boston College in 2007. Then, two goals in the Stanley Cup finals against Pittsburgh in 2010 -- the first rookie to score in consecutive Cup Finals games since Minnesota's Dino Ciccarelli in 1981.
"That's part of my game," Abdelkader said. "I just go out there and play hard, you know, finish my checks, work hard in front of the net. Obviously it's nice to draw some penalties but for me it's just go out there and play a 200-foot game, be physical when I can.
"If I get under guys' skin, great. Draw penalties is good too. So I just try to do my part and try to get us a win there."
Tonight against Winnipeg ...
"It was two big points," he explained. "It's nice not to have to push that to overtime and shootout because sometimes that's a flip of the coin.
"So to win in regulation and to get this win, especially after being down 2-0, shows the character in this room, and we have a lot of fight in here."
Said Larkin, "He's a big moment player. It's good to see a guy who does everything for the team score a big goal like that."
Larkin, who was drafted out of Muskegon, Michigan, was the
second round, 42nd overall, in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by the Red Wings. He has 17 goals and 19 assists and is quite the power play players -- five goals and 10 assists on the Power Play.
Joe Abdelkader is a school teacher and Sheryl is a nurse. Honest beginnings. His first piece of sports memorabilia is a Red Wings jersey and his favorite player was naturally Steve Yzerman.
The Abdelkader's were there in front of the TV set for Justin's first goal -- sort of.
"We both kind of nodded off between periods," Joe Abdelkader said. "Then, I woke up and said, 'Sheryl, he has the puck.' And, then he shot and scored. We both jumped so high we almost touched the ceiling."
People were talking about Abdelkader ...
Like former Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma, who is now with Buffalo. He was telling a gaggle of reporters at the 2009 Stanley Cup finals that he also grew up in Muskegon and was one of the first players from that area to make it to the NHL, but ...
"I never had a billboard in Western Michigan, Justin did," Bylsma said with a little tough of jealousy in his voice. "I don't know if he still does. But I was fully aware of this kid from Michigan growing up.
"I remember seeing the billboard and I was a little jealous I never got one -- not that I'm a billboard type of guy. But he got it."
As it turns out the billboard in Muskegon wasn't for Justin's play at Mona Shores High School, where he was Michigan's Mr. Hockey in 2004 when 37 goals and 43 assists in 28 games. But rather it was a billboard for a knee injury he had in high school and the rehab he had afterward.
"The billboard was for a physical therapy unit that helped me with my rehab after knee scope when I was in high school," Abdelkader said a little embarrassed to know that the whole world now knows of this billboard he thought he had lived down before he got to Michigan State, where NCAA rules said the sign had to come down and no prohibited him from being involved in any sort of advertisement. "It was weird, actually. I had surgery, worked on getting my knee back in shape and there I am splattered all over a billboard, showing my knee and how I could now do things I couldn't when I injured the knee."
Bylsma's jealously aside, he is proud of this Muskegon kid, who went on to go to Michigan State University, from one Muskegon kid to another.
"Even when he was young, I followed his career, even though I had not met him," Bylsma said. "Then when he went on to Michigan State and I remember hearing talk about where he was going to rank as a pro. I was fully aware of him, though I never got a chance to meet him until this year in Grand Rapids, where I met his family."
So, Dan what do you think of Justin's play so far against your team?
Added Bylsma, "When your team plays well enough and you have a great team concept, you give everybody a chance to put on the cape on any given night. Unfortunately for us he's been wearing it for two games here."
So far, Justin Abdelkader learns fast. You couldn't tell that from the billboard.
"I've said this guy is a player you're going to talk about for a long time," coach Mike Babcock, who now coaches at Toronto. "He's going to be a physical force in the league forechecking and he's going to have enough hands to be around the net and play with the good players and he's going to be a net presence."
Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi, after he chose Abdelkader to represent the United States, "He's very difficult to play against, and he's only going to get better."
But Ablekader, who stands 6-2, 215-pounds, is one of the fastest players in NHL. He can do things with his shot, with his hits and ... with his body.
"I've always played the same way, kind of with a chip on my shoulder and always wanting to win," Abdelkader said. "I don't know where that comes from. But one thing you can't teach players is competitiveness.
"You can't tell someone to just go out and do it; they have to do it themselves. I think for a lot of players, that's the reason they either make it or they don't."
Sheryl, his mom, remembered, "He had the dream when he was in elementary school. I found a paper where they had to write about what they wanted to do in life and it said, 'I want to be an NHL player.'
" 'I want to play for the Red Wings.' "