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Billboard ushered in Abdelkader's fame years ago

by Larry Wigge

"I remember seeing the billboard and I was a little jealous I never got one -- not that I'm a billboard type of guy. But he got it."
-- Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma

PITTSBURGH -- The legend of 22-year-old Justin Abdelkader continues to grow.

From zero goals in the four regular-season games over the last two years and no goals in his first seven playoff games leading into the Stanley Cup Final -- where he became the first rookie to score in consecutive Cup Final games since Minnesota's Dino Ciccarelli in 1981.

Oh yeah, Abdelkader's two goals currently are more than Penguins' stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin combined.

And now Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma tells us how he also grew up in Muskegon and was one of the first players from that area to make it to the National Hockey League, but ...

"I never had a billboard in Western Michigan. Justin did," Bylsma said with a little tough of "jealousy" in his voice. "I don't know if he still does. But I was fully aware of this kid from Michigan growing up.

"I remember seeing the billboard and I was a little jealous I never got one -- not that I'm a billboard type of guy. But he got it."

As it turns out the billboard in Muskegon wasn't for Justin's play at Mona Shores High School, where he was Michigan's Mr. Hockey in 2004 when he scored 37 goals and 43 assists in 28 games. Rather it was a billboard relating to a knee injury he had in high school and the rehab he had afterward.

"The billboard was for a physical therapy unit that helped me with my rehab after knee scope when I was in high school," Abdelkader said, a little embarrassed to know that the whole world now knows of this billboard he thought he had lived down before he got to Michigan State, where NCAA rules said the sign had to come down and prohibited him from being involved in any sort of advertisement.

"It was weird, actually. I had surgery, worked on getting my knee back in shape and there I am splattered all over a billboard, showing my knee and how I could now do things I couldn't when I injured the knee."

Bylsma's "jealously" aside, he is proud of this Muskegon kid, who went on to go to Michigan State, was selected in the second round (No. 42) in the 2005 Entry Draft by the Detroit Red Wings, and went on to score the winning goal in the NCAA championship game against Boston College in 2007.

And now, more publicity against another Muskegon native.

"Even when he was young, I followed his career, even though I had not met him," Bylsma said. "Then when he went on to Michigan State and I remember hearing talk about where he was going to rank as a pro. I was fully aware of him, though I never got a chance to meet him until this year in Grand Rapids, where I met his family."

So, Dan what do you think of Justin's play so far against your team?

"When your team plays well enough and you have a great team concept, you give everybody a chance to put on the cape on any given night," he said. "Unfortunately for us he's been wearing it for two games here."

So far, the cape fits Abdelkader pretty well. Probably better than the billboard.
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