DETROIT – It’s homecoming weekend for Justin Abdelkader, who will be honored by his former Tier 1 junior hockey team.
Abdelkader, his girlfriend, and his parents will attend a very special night – in Iowa, where his former USHL team, the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, plan to honor the Red Wings’ forward at the 4,000-seat Cedar Rapids Ice Arena on Saturday.
“I was really surprised,” Abdelkader said about getting the phone call. “I don’t think they’ve retired any numbers, so it’s really unique.”
Prior to the game against Omaha, the RoughRiders will pay tribute to Abdelkader at center ice, where he will also participate in a ceremonial puck drop.
The Red Wings’ forward played one season (2004-05) with the RoughRiders along side current NHL players Teddy Purcell, Alec Martinez and Alex Stalock. Together, the trio helped bring a Clark Cup championship to eastern Iowa.
In 60 regular-season games, Abdelkader finished third in team scoring (52 points), which was 15 points behind Purcell’s team-leading totals.
Two years later, Abdelkader led Michigan State to a NCAA national championship by scoring an overtime goal against Boston College in the 2007 final.
As the 11-year anniversary of their first, and only, USHL title approaches, the RoughRiders’ organization is putting the finishing touches on a hall of fame wall in the arena. That’s where a banner with Abdelkader’s name and jersey number will hang, forever.
However, Abdelkader’s No. 9 will remain in circulation – forward Justin Cole, of Bryn Athyn, Pa., currently sports the digit – but the former MSU standout is the first RoughRiders’ alumni to receive the hall-of-fame honor.
When he arrived in Iowa 10 years ago, Abdelkader got to select his jersey number. Shockingly, the number was still available. But he says he didn’t pick it out of respect to Gordie Howe, the man who made the number the most recognizable digit in the hockey world.
“I always liked watching Mike Modano with that 9 jersey flying behind him,” he said. “I always liked it.”
Living so far from home at 17 years old was made simple by his billets, said Abdelkader, who hopes to see the Schmidt family – Kelly and Todd and their four children – during his quick trip to Iowa.
“It was nice to have a family atmosphere being a senior in high school and being a way for the first year,” Abdelkader said. “It was a nice spot to be.”
The first 1,000 fans at Saturday’s game against the Omaha Lancers will receive an Abdelkader bobblehead.