Muskegon native and Bloomfield Hills transplant Justin Abdelkader grew up dreaming about playing professional hockey for the Detroit Red Wings. Now, the 31-year-old left winger is sharing his story about making it to the National Hockey League and becoming the Red Wings alternate captain in a new children's book titled, "Shoot For the Goal – The Justin Abdelkader Story."
"Abby," as he's known to fans and teammates, said he started thinking about writing a book after now-retired Detroit Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch wrote his own children's book, "The Little Linebacker." The book also fits into the mission of Abby's All Stars, part of the Red Wings for Reading program that encourages kids to read.
"I thought, I have a good story to tell, and I thought it was a book that I could put on my reading list and tie into Abby's All Stars," he said. "It's really exciting to tell my story."
Central to the book is the challenges that Abdelkader faced making his way to the NHL, and how he overcame obstacles in order to fulfill his dream.
"You're going to have obstacles along the way, and that's part of the story I wanted to tell," he said. "There are always going to be things that get in your way along the road, but how you get back up is part of what I wanted to tell. It wasn't easy, but whether I made it or not, I was going to work as hard as I could."
Starting with a pair of hand-me-down skates on Muskrat Lake (as illustrated by Mary Cindrich in the book), Abdelkader was about four-years-old when his father introduced him to the game. Abdelkader said the chances of playing professionally were explained at a middle school career fair by comparing being a professional to one red marble among thousands in the school.
"We all thought growing up of being a professional player," he said. "I remember leaving there and how disappointed we were. You know the chances are against you, but when they put the stats out there, you realize it's going to be really hard. But it inspired us in a way. In the book, I try to inspire kids and say to have goals along the way, and that you have to have an end goal. There are things that keep you going and fighting for that ultimate goal. Fortunately, I was able to play for the Wings, but I enjoyed playing for high school and college."
Abdelkader played junior hockey for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders during his last year of high school, helping the team win the 2004-05 Clark Cup Championship. He went on to play for three years at Michigan State University, where he scored the game-winning goal in the final 20 seconds of the 2007 NCAA Championship game against Boston College, earning him the Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player. The following year, Abdelkader gave up his college eligibility to try out for the Red Wings, leading to his first contract with the team.
The book also gives Abdelkader a way of sharing his story with his own son, who was born in September.
"I wanted to get the story out there also to be able to read it to him one day, and learn from things that I faced along the way," he said. "Adversity is a really good thing. It's how you go about dealing with it."
Photo: Dan Mannes, Detroit Red Wings