By Ryan Zuke and Ben Fleck -
DETROIT - Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader remembers how exciting it was to have special players or coaches running hockey summer camps when he was young.
Now, he gets to return the favor.
On July 26, the former Michigan State Spartan and Grand Rapids Griffin served as a guest coach at the Detroit Red Wings Youth Hockey camp at Joe Louis Arena.
“For us, we’ve been given so much and we know how important role models are—especially at a young age,” Abdelkader said. “So it’s good to be here to help the kids out and hopefully be a positive influence on them.”
Abdelkader, along with former Red Wings forward Kirk Maltby, goaltending coach Jim Bedard and assistant coach Keith McKittrick are serving as instructors for the camp which runs from July 25-27.
“It’s been real good,” Abdelkader said. “Just to see the excitement on the kids’ faces and they are all having a good time, working hard. It’s good to be back out here at the Joe.”
Players from ages 6-16 are allowed to participate in the event, but Abdelkdader said the message does not change that much between age groups.
“The big thing is to have fun, enjoy what you’re doing. Being able to come out here and play hockey, and do what you love, I think it’s really exciting. You just got to work hard and take the game as far as you can and if you keep those two things in line, everything else will take care of itself.”
And although Abdelkader is helping the players improve on their hockey skills at the camp, he also stressed the importance of academics.
“For me, academics was always a big thing. You always have to have something to fall back on. At a young age, you have dreams and aspire to play in the NHL, and you maybe could one day, but at the same time you have to have something to fall back on and education was always important for me.”
Bedard said his favorite part of being a part of the camp is seeing the kids’ reaction to skating at such a large venue.
“The first day, seeing the kids’ reaction when they skate on the ice for the first time and they look up and see the banners and the retired sweaters, it’s stuff like that that’s amazing.”
The camp is open to players of all skill levels which Bedard believes, makes it a better experience.
“The great thing about this hockey camp is that it’s not a tryout, it’s not a hockey school; it’s more of a hockey experience,” Bedard said. “So we can have kids that are house league level players and kids who play travel hockey, and they can all enjoy it.”
Both Abdelkader and Bedard said they have thoroughly enjoyed working with each other and with Maltby and the rest of the instructors.
“Malts is one of the best guys ever,” Bedard said. “This is his first year doing it and he’s added a great dimension to it. And McKittrick, our video coach, is on the ice a lot with me a lot in Detroit and helps with the start of practice, special skills and goaltender training.”