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Lightning's Cooper a fan of Red Wings' Abdelkader

by Paul Harris /

DETROIT -- Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper goes way back with Detroit Red Wings left wing Justin Abdelkader.

When Abdelkader was playing high school hockey in his hometown, Muskegon, Mich., with Mona Shores High School, Cooper was the coach at Lansing Catholic Central High School. The schools played each other because both are located in west Michigan.

So it isn't a real surprise to Cooper that Abdelkader, 28, has developed into an impact NHL power forward.

Justin Abdelkader
Justin Abdelkader
Left Wing - DET
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 2
SOG: 2 | +/-: 1
In his eighth NHL season, Abdelkader, 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, had a breakout 2014-15 season with 23 goals and 21 assists for 44 points in 71 games.

Cooper last faced Abdelkader at the high school level in 2003-04 when Abdelkader, as a junior, won the Mr. Hockey Award that goes to Michigan's top high school hockey player.

Eleven years later, Cooper again sees Abdelkader on the other bench. But this time it's in an Eastern Conference First Round series, which is tied 2-2 going into Game 5 on Saturday (6 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports, FS-D, FS-F).

"Abdelkader, I know for me, doesn't get the press he should get," Cooper said. "I've admired him for a long time, from when I faced him at Mona Shores. He's earned his way into this League and where he is."

Abdelkader missed the last four games of the regular season and the first two of the Stanley Cup Playoffs because of a hand injury.

He returned in Game 3 and had an assist in Detroit's 3-0 win at Joe Louis Arena.

"Any time you're out for any amount of time, over a week, I think you're going to feel winded. But the good thing is with the injury, I could still skate and keep my legs and that was huge," Abdelkader said after the game. "That went a long ways into helping me feel pretty good out there. I got tired as the game went on. I kind of went up and down a bit but I felt really good."

He had another assist in Tampa Bay's 3-2 overtime win on Thursday.

Red Wings right wing Gustav Nyquist had a long list of attributes that make Abdelkader valuable.

"Big body, provides a great physical presence, you know he's going to be a net-front guy, battles real hard, strong on the puck, forechecks real good and wins pucks for you," Nyquist said.

"Shown over the year he can score a lot of goals, too. Real good touch for putting the puck in the net. He's real valuable for us."

This season Abdelkader more than doubled his previous career high for goals, which had been 10 in 2012-13 and 2013-14.

"It's taken [Abdelkader] a long time to know he's back at being who he was," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "He was a dominant player in the American (Hockey) League, he was a dominant player in college, he's always been a hard guy, but it's taken him awhile to get to that level."

Not only does Abdelkader have a history of scoring goals, he scores them at big times.

He played at Michigan State University for three seasons, scoring 44 goals in 124 games. By far the biggest was the one that gave the Spartans the 2007 NCAA national championship.

Abdelkader, then a sophomore, scored with 18.9 seconds left in the national championship game to break a 1-1 tie and MSU went on to beat Boston College 3-1 in the game.

After playing in four NHL regular-season games over his first two seasons, Abdelkader's first two NHL goals came in the 2009 Stanley Cup Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"When he gets the puck and he has a chance, he shoots it in the net," Babcock said. "He doesn't dump it on the goalie and forecheck."

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