By Nick Barnowski -
EAST LANSING - While his red and white jersey has helped establish his pro career, it’s his green and white jersey that helped get him there.
So of course, anytime Justin Abdelkader gets the chance to sport “the only colors,” as stated in his school’s fight song, he’s going to take advantage of it.
Abdelkader returned to Munn Ice Arena and the campus of Michigan State University on Monday, wearing a Spartan jersey for this week’s annual MSU pro camp.
The camp features numerous former Spartans who have returned to East Lansing to participate in drills run by current MSU assistant coach Tom Newton.
“It’s always good to get the guys together here,” Abdelkader said. “It’s always good to come back here to Munn, it brings back some great memories.”
The Detroit Red Wings forward was more than ready to get back on the ice before September’s training camp in Traverse City. Abdelkader said he wasn’t feeling too bad after one of his few training camp-like practices since last season ended.
“Everyone’s kind of working to get ready for training camp,” the Norton Shores native said. “It’s still early but after this week it’ll feel a lot better.”
Sharing the ice with teammates Drew Miller and Jakub Kindl this week has made Abdelkader all the more excited for this upcoming season to start. The additions of Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss add depth to a team that Abdelkader already felt was pretty deep.
“Our team on paper should be looking pretty good,” he said. “I think last year showed the depth of our organization with the young players coming up.
“Alfie [Alfredsson], he’s a goal scorer, a proven goal scorer, a guy who’s going to help the power play right away, a veteran coming into the locker room. I don’t know much about Weiss but I know he had a productive career in Florida, and he’s a natural center so I think he’ll slot in really nice with our team.”
The 26-year-old enjoyed a breakout 2013 season with the Red Wings, in which he scored 10 goals in 48 games while getting the chance to play alongside Pavel Datsyuk on the team’s first line. That, along with his physical play and size, made him an asset for coach Mike Babcock.
“I’m looking forward to going out there and playing my game, wherever they put me I’ll be trying to contribute,” the 2007 NCAA champion said. “I enjoy going to the front and I enjoy creating havoc, especially when you’re playing on a line with Pavel, you’ve got to get him the puck as much as possible.”
His success with the Red Wings this season wasn’t just noticed by Detroit management and fans. Abdelkader earned an invite to the U.S. Olympic team orientation camp, which takes place August 26-27 in Arlington, Virginia.
Joining him will be Detroit teammates Jimmy Howard and Danny DeKeyser, and while Abdelkader may not be the high-end skill player the team is looking for, he could find a spot on the team’s energy line.
“I was pretty excited, it was an honor to get invited,” he said. “I’m looking forward to going down next week to get together with the guys and see how they want us to play if we get selected.”
Making the team won’t be easy – only 25 out of the 48 players invited will go to the 2014 Sochi games – but Abdelkader is hoping to impress the coaching staff.
“I just want to go out and make their decision hard,” he said. “Hopefully I get an opportunity to play on the team.”