DETROIT - Justin Abdelkader is all grown up but he remembers what it was like being a kid and the joy of learning how to read.
That is why Abdelkader participates in the Red Wings for Reading program and why he met 40 students from throughout Michigan after Sunday night's game against the New York Rangers.
"It's great to be involved with kids and education," Abdelkader said. "Education was always important in my family and it's good to send that message to our youth and our kids."
The students and their parents were invited to the game and to meet Abdelkader afterward because they participated in the program and it is a celebration of National Reading Month.
Each child had to read three or more books for their grade level, as selected by Abdelkader, or have someone read the books to them.
First-grader Theoren Beauchamp of Marysville said he read 'The Snowy Day,' 'If You Give a Mouse a Cookie' and 'Willow.'
Beauchamp was excited to meet Abdelkader and get a photo with his new favorite Red Wing.
"Amazing," Beauchamp said of the experience. "Because I hadn't met a Red Wing yet."
Abdelkader recalled what he liked to read when he was Beauchamp's age.
"I always liked 'Green Eggs and Ham,' that was always one of my favorites," Abdelkader said. "Any kind of Dr. Seuss book. I had a lot of favorites. There were so many good books when I was younger."
Kholton Massey, a fifth-grade student in Montrose, came with his stepfather, Nick Stanley.
"It was absolutely worth it," Stanley said. "It was a lot of fun, very entertaining. We've never been to a Red Wings game. We've been to a couple Saginaw Spirit games but overall, it was a well worth it experience."
Massey took photos of Abdelkader and with him also, calling the Wings alternate captain "nice."
Stanley told Massey how special it was they were there.
"That's what I was just telling him, only eight games left (at Joe Louis Arena)," Stanley said. "Definitely something to remember."
The event wraps up the fifth season of the Red Wings for Reading program, which is sponsored by the Michigan Education Savings Program.
This year more than 245 schools across the state participated in the program, which ran from Dec. 1, 2016 to Jan. 31, 2017.
The Wings received nearly 1,000 entries from students wanting to attend Sunday's game and postgame festivities with Abdelkader.
"It's important because education is important, especially at a young age," Abdelkader said. "Obviously kids have a lot going on but to make sure they're dedicated to their reading and their schoolwork is real important.
"They're our future so it's important to teach them early."