Aug. 2, 2011
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - Justin Abdelkader may be only 24 years old, but when he speaks the youth of West Michigan listen.
That much was evident as the Detroit Red Wings forward -- and former Mona Shores High School, Michigan State University and Grand Rapids Griffins standout -- helped more than 60 kids with their skating, stick handling and shooting skills at Monday afternoon’s Griffins Youth Hockey Camp at Griff’s IceHouse.
It was the third year in a row that he has volunteered at the camp.
"It’s always fun to come back here and give back to the community and the organization," Abdelkader said moments before scarfing down a lunch delivered by his dad, Joe, and older sister, Jamie.
"I’m starting to recognize some faces each year and seeing the kids progress and grow up. It’s good to see."
Abdelkader was glad he could carve out the time to visit Grand Rapids again. He has had a busy summer, splitting his time between his hometown of Muskegon and training in Detroit, while fitting in a few trips, a couple weddings and one memorable flight with the Blue Angels.
"It’s been busy," he said. "Just glad it worked out with the schedule and I could come out and help out."
In fact, Abdelkader next will head to Adrian on Tuesday to help with a hockey camp run by Red Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill.
Former Griffins captain Jamie Tardif, who signed a two-year deal with the Boston Bruins this summer, is scheduled to participate in the Griffins Youth Hockey Camp through the rest of the week, and Kentwood native and Washington Capitals forward Mike Knuble is slated to stop by either Thursday or Friday.
Abdelkader said he can’t believe it’s August already, but he’s looking forward to heading to training camp in Traverse City.
Even if it will be a little strange, he acknowledged, playing without former Red Wings teammates Kris Draper, Chris Osgood and Brian Rafalski, who retired in the offseason.
"I think those guys will still be around, though, and it will be good to have them around within the organization," Abdelkader said. "It will be a little different, but hopefully, the guys can step up and fill some leadership roles. Obviously, Drapes was a very vocal leader in the locker room, so we’ll definitely miss that."
Abdelkader said he still feels too young to be seen as a leader this season -- he was an alternate captain with the Griffins and at MSU -- but he hopes he can grow into that position as he gains more experience.
"I hope I can fill that role at some point," he said. "I’m still young at this point in my career, still adjusting to the game, but I hope I can feel that leadership role one way or another."
Abdelkader said he didn’t focus on anything specific this summer in terms of training, but he hopes to remain a multifaceted forward for the Red Wings after spending time on all four lines last season and playing center and on both wings.
"I hope I can be that versatile guy, I hope I can play wherever they put me," he said. "I played center most of my career, but now I’ve been left wing and right wing a little bit, too, and getting comfortable there. I’ve enjoyed being able to play all positions."
In the meantime, he’s simply eager to get another season going.
"Once August comes and you start getting on the ice, you get anxious to get back with the guys, for sure," Abdelkader said.
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