Detroit Red Wing Justin Abdelkader

By Ron Rop
Local Sports Journal

At this time of year, Justin Abdelkader is accustomed to playing hockey in the finest venues in North America.

However, the National Hockey League’s lockout has relegated the Muskegon native and current Detroit Red Wing to playing in a men’s league at Lakeshore Sports Centre.

His teammates are a bit older and out of shape. The bleachers aren’t packed with rabid Red Wings’ fans. Instead, just a handful of people show up.

Oh, he’s not complaining about his current state of affairs because he does get to spend some time in the area. But on the other hand, he’d like to get back to work at his regular job playing forward for the Red Wings.

“You plan to get ready for a certain time and for that date to go by and for us not to be playing, it’s definitely a little different and something I haven’t dealt with before,” said Abdelkader.

“It’s different, but at the same time, we get reminded real quick that it’s a business,” Abdelkader said. “It’s an enjoyable sport for us, but when it comes down to it, it’s a business too.

“It’s unfortunate,” he said. “You feel bad for the fans and we want to get out there as soon as we can, but we also know we want it to be under the right conditions with a fair deal.”

On Monday night, Abdekader scored a goal 38 seconds into the game and another in the second period on a backhand shot.

“I just get out there and enjoy it,” Abdelkader said. “I just have fun, enjoy it and it’s a change of pace from the routine practices.”

Stan Andrie, who sponsors the Andrie team, has jokingly told Abdelkader he’s always rostered in case he wants to come back and play.

“Obviously, I never had an opportunity to do that, but it’s a unique year where we’re not playing so I’m around so why not come out here and have fun?” Abdelkader said. “It’s nothing serious.”

Several observers have said that when Abdelkader plays, the pace of the other players picks up. They try their best to hang with the NHL guy by either winning a draw or stealing the puck from him.

“It’s kind of good to get some kind competitive atmosphere going,” Abdelkader said.

What has been toughest on Abdelkader, besides the fact he’s not getting paid, is he doesn’t see his teammates on a daily basis.

“I do see the guys during the week three or four times,” said Abdelkader, who travels regular between his home in Royal Oak and his home in Muskegon. “But it’s the guys that are around. Some guys are overseas and we really don’t get to talk to them too much.”

Abdelkader also was looking forward to the Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. That game was scheduled for Jan. 1, 2012 and would have drawn more than 100,000 spectators.

“That’s a bummer, but hopefully when we start up again the following year, we can play in it,” he said.

Besides working out and skating several times a week, Abdelkader did get in some fall golf, but in the fall, that’s not what he wants to be doing.

“I got some fall golf in, but at this time of year, we want to be playing hockey.”