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Abbie adds twist to century-old tale

by Zack Crawford / Detroit Red Wings
Justin Abdelkader
HAMTRAMCK, Mich. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can might be a fitting mantra for the Red Wings as they battle for playoff placement this time of year.

But the final eight games of the regular-season were put on the back burner Friday afternoon as center Justin Abdelkader read the century-old story of “The Little Engine That Could” to 50 students at Early Elementary School.

Abdelkader’s school visit was one of three events that the Wings have hosted this month in support of National Reading Month.

Bedecked in his home jersey, the former Michigan State standout sat in front of a group of kindergartners and first-graders and gave a lively interpretation of the classic children’s book, adding different inflections for the characters in the book, displaying the pictures on each page and even offering his personal take on the plot. 

“Sometimes you see a sports figure, you see them on TV and you don’t really know how they are,” Abdelkader said. “But hopefully some of them come in the classroom and read and show that they’re a normal person that came from a small town and worked hard and persevered and just show them that education is important and how important hard work and perseverance is.”

After sharing the book – which he cites as one of his childhood favorites – Abdelkader answered questions from the students, ranging from what his favorite foods are, to what the inside of the penalty box looks like, to how he identified with characters in the story.

As for his personal reading, one of Abdelkader’s more recent literary indulgences was Lance Armstrong’s “It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life”, which chronicles the cyclists fight against and eventual recovery from cancer.

“I read Lance Armstrong’s book about his journey,” Abdelkader said. “And it’s not just about the bike, it’s about the journey of life so it was really good, inspirational.”

The Wings began supporting National Reading Month with school visits last March.
As part of this year’s promotion of reading, the Wings hosted 55 fifth-graders at Joe Louis Arena for a reading party earlier this month. A week later defenseman Brad Stuart read a book from the Brady Brady series to a class of kindergartners at Vandenberg World Cultures Academy in Southfield.

Patrick Eaves reads a lot,” Abdelkader said when asked if there were any bookworms on the team. “He has a Nook so he’ll bring that on the road and read a lot. The guys like to read magazines, a lot of those on the plane, too.”

Before leaving the school, Abdelkader presented autographed copies of “The ABC’s of Detroit Red Wings Hockey” book in addition to five Brady Brady children’s hockey books as a donation to the school’s library.

In return, students presented the forward with a handmade book that contained an illustrated, hockey-themed story.

“Just how excited the kids get when we come here and read to them,” Abdelakder said of what he likes most about visiting schools. “The excitement and hopefully stress how important it is to read.”

Friday’s reading marks his second year of visiting a school; last year he read at Detroit’s Glazer Elementary School.

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