GROSSE POINTE, MICH. - When defenseman Danny DeKeyser walked into St. Paul's Catholic School in Grosse Pointe for the Red Wings School Assembly Program, he was greeted as not just a professional athlete but as a neighbor.
DeKeyser helped kick off the eighth annual School Assembly Program almost in his own backyard.
"I live right down the street from here," DeKeyser said. "I actually got married here in the church. When they asked me to do it, I was happy to do so. It was a good day."
DeKeyser also got a surprise when he met St. Paul's principal, Tina Forsythe.
"I showed up today and I didn't know that Mrs. Forsythe worked here," DeKeyser said. "Apparently she's the principal now. She was, I believe, my (fourth)-grade social studies teacher. She's great, she's awesome. It was good to see her again."
Forsythe said she was excited that one of her former students from St. Mary's in Mount Clemens was going to be the special guest for the program.
"I went and grabbed a book from back in the '90s and looked up his picture," Forsythe said. "I remember him like it was yesterday. He was a great student, he was a good kid so it's so good to see that he went to school, went to Western (Michigan) and is a great product of society. So it was very exciting."
The School Assembly Program is set to visit 115 schools during the 2017-18 season and is sponsored by Saint Joseph Mercy Health System and the Michigan Education Savings Program.
It is designed to introduce students to the sport of hockey, encourage an active and healthy lifestyle and address the issue of bullying and how to celebrate cultural differences.
In its history, the Red Wings School Assembly Team has visited 675 local schools with more than 340,000 students and donated 1,350 sets of floor hockey equipment.
The students at St. Paul's got to ask DeKeyser a couple of questions, including what other sports he played and what it was like to score his first NHL goal.
The School Assembly Program coaches and DeKeyser talked about the importance of healthy eating and getting at least an hour of exercise a day.
"I think this program was great because they emphasize all aspects of it, the dedication, the education, setting goals, sticking with education, talking about college," Forsythe said. "Because some of these kids, they're so young, they're not thinking about college but then our eighth graders, who are ready to enter into high school, (hear) that grades are important, studying is important, setting goals is important.
"The nutrition part of it was great, too. I loved that because not a lot of the students think about what they're putting into their bodies, that it's important. Also, the exercise part of it. A lot of the students now, kids now, have electronic devices so they're not spending all the time outside with activity, so I think that was a great part of it, too."
Eighth-grade student Andres Borrego was more than happy to take an hour out of the regular school day for the event.
"It was really fun," Borrego said. "The whole school came to the assembly and we played lots of fun games and learned about health and education. Everybody just knew that you have to work hard to achieve your goals and nothing really comes easy."
The event culminated in a students versus teachers shootout with the floor hockey equipment that the school gets to keep.
One teacher and one student were the goalies and five other teachers and four students plus DeKeyser made up the teams.
"I actually scored." said Riley Winkler, a fourth grader. "It felt great. I saw some of my friends, they got up and started clapping for me. I saw them in the audience and it made me get a lot more confident about how I did that."
Winkler scored for the students but DeKeyser was stopped.
However, the students shut out their teachers, 2-0.
"I think it's great," DeKeyser said. "I've done a few of the school assembly programs that they do and the staff does a great job of putting everything together. The kids love it so it's a lot of fun."
Every student received an educational Red Wings folder and each teacher received a RISE (Ross Initiative for Sports Equality) Teacher Kit to help students learn about the different countries from which the Wings players come.
One student received a little more than a folder. He got DeKeyser's signature on his forehead.
"A kid in my class said he'd pay me if he did it and I'm like, this is a bad idea but I just did it anyway," said Dan Sullivan, an eighth grader. "He's a popular guy, Danny DeKeyser, he's in the NHL, it's kind of cool, a big name coming out here and he teaches you and he plays with you in the shootout. It's kind of fun."
It was fun but also more special that DeKeyser was the Wings player who came to St. Paul's Catholic School.
"He is from here and I do know that some of our students see him at our church services," Forsythe said. "I think that's great. We didn't tell them that it was Danny coming today so it was a surprise. But they were guessing and a lot of them were like, 'Is it Danny DeKeyser coming today' because they are familiar with him. I think that is good that he is part of this community and that they see that he is here, that he came."