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Abdelkader signs deal; Kopecky out

by Lindsey Ungar / Detroit Red Wings
Justin Abdelkader delivers one of his six body-checks during his NHL debut on April 3. This one came at the expense of Blue Jackets center Zenon Konopka.
DETROIT — Saturday: Play in the NCAA hockey playoffs in Colorado.

Wednesday: Get a call for an amateur tryout from the team he cheered for as a kid.

Thursday: Make his NHL debut.

Adding to an already hectic week for forward Justin Abdelkader, the Red Wings signed the 21-year-old Muskegon, Mich., native to a three-year contract through the 2009-10 season on Friday afternoon. He was Detroit’s second-round selection (42nd overall) in the 2005 draft.

“It’s really been a whirlwind,” said the former Michigan State Spartans. “It’s just been bam, bam. I’m here playing for the Wings. Last week if you would have told me this I would have said you were crazy.”

Terms were not released, but the contract makes him eligible to play in Sunday's regular-season finale against Chicago as well as in the playoffs.

Assistant general manager Jim Nill called Abdelkader Wednesday night to offer him an amateur tryout in Thursday’s game against Columbus. Abdelkader, who got back early Monday morning from Colorado Springs and hadn’t skated since the regional final against Notre Dame on Saturday, didn’t hesitate to jump at the opportunity.

“Monday, I kind of sat down and talked to my parents and we kind of figured I was gonna turn pro,” Abdelkader said. “I thought (this season) I accomplished quite a bit in college, obviously not a national championship, but I had a better year points-wise, felt real strong on the ice, and thought I was ready for the next challenge. I thought this would be a great opportunity, coming in here, getting experience playing and being around for the playoff run.”

Abdelkader skated over 11 minutes in Detroit’s 3-2 win against Columbus. He was 3-for-6 in the faceoff circle and registered three hits, three shots, and two penalty minutes. And in the stands, about 15 of his former Spartans teammates cheered him on.

“Some of them said they were more nervous than I was,” Abdelkader said. “Every time I went out there on the ice they got up, stood up. It was really neat they could come down and support me like that. It just shows how close we were as a team last year and how close we will be for the rest of our lives.”

On the ice, linemate Aaron Downey cheered him on — sort of. A natural center, Abdelkader started on a line with Downey and Derek Meech.

“Downey was giving me some crap earlier in the game,” Adelkader joked. “Just asking me if I was ready, and it was kind of funny he told me, ‘don’t worry about anyone messing around with you, I got your back, blah, blah, blah.’”

While it’s a surreal experience to join the Wings, the Spartans had advanced to the NCAA regional final in each of Abdelkader’s three seasons, including last season when he was named MVP of post-season tournament.

This season, he was second on the Spartans in scoring with a career-best 19 goals and 40 points. But he’s best known for the national championship-clinching goal he scored with 18.9 seconds remaining in regulation against Boston College.

So while he jumped at the chance to join the Wings, Abdelkader leaves a long list of memories behind at Michigan State. He met with Spartans coach Rick Comley before signing.

“He’s just really proud of me,” said Abdelkader, who attended Muskegon's Mona Shores High School through his junior year. “He understands the situation I’m in, the opportunity I have. Obviously, he’s disappointed to lose me. But we talked. You know, I had three great years there, we won a national championship, and I feel like Michigan State has done so much for me, for my career and my development. And I told him that.”
For the second straight season, Kopecky (left) has finished the year with season-ending surgery. He did, however, play in last spring's Western Conference finals against Anaheim.

A junior majoring in supply chain management, Abdelkader said he is about 35 credits away from graduating. And by joining the Wings now, he’s leaving class just in time for final exams.

“Coming into college I wanted to finish my degree," he said. "but I think I’m still gonna be taking classes and finish up in the next couple years. I’ll take some summer classes and hopefully gotta figure out my schedule for this last month here. I gotta email my teachers and get that squared away.”

Abdelkader is not the first U.S. college player to join an NHL team at the end of a regular -season. San Jose defenseman Matt Carle (University of Denver) and Los Angeles defenseman Jack Johnson (University of Michigan) have done the same thing the past two years.

WINGS NOTEBOOK: Forward Tomas Kopecky joins the lengthening list of Red Wings’ injuries. Kopecky, suffered a sprained MCL and torn ACL when he collided with Columbus’ Manny Malhotra in the second period of Thursday’s game. He is expected to have surgery in approximately two weeks, and will be sidelined for four to six months. … Forwards Kirk Maltby (hamstring), Tomas Holmstrom (abdominal), Mikael Samuelsson (groin) and Kris Draper (groin) are still nursing injuries.

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