DETROIT – As someone who grew-up in Michigan cheering for the Red Wings as a young boy, forward Justin Abdelkader had an idea of what Danny DeKeyser must have felt as he skated with his new team for the first time last Saturday.
Like Abdelkader, who was born and raised in western Michigan, DeKeyser grew-up a huge Red Wings fan in metro Detroit. The undrafted free agent defenseman signed with his hometown team over the weekend after deciding on the Wings instead of several other NHL clubs that sought his services.
“Yeah, my dad and I talked about it too,” Abdelkader said. “Just remembering the first time I walked into the locker room, and guys coming up to me to introduce themselves. You knew most of the guys, but for them to walk up to you and introduce themselves was really special.”
It was a "pinch me" moment for DeKeyser, who grew-up 40-minutes northeast of Joe Louis Arena and played three seasons of college hockey at Western Michigan in Kalamazoo.
“He looks excited and happy to be here, obviously. It’s great for him,” Abdelkader said. “It’s great that he chose his hometown team and it’s got to be extremely exciting for him to come in here and be a part of a team, an organization that he probably grew-up rooting for.”
Though Abdelkader took the more traditional route to the Red Wings, who selected him in the second-round of the 2005 NHL draft, the memories of turning pro for his hometown team were no different than what DeKeyser experienced.
“It was awesome, something that I will never forget, just walking in here for the first time,” Abdelkader said. “I remember coming in for a pre-game skate and it was optional; not a lot of guys came down to the rink. … Finally to make the dream come true and step foot into the locker room for the first time and to meet the guys was a great experience.”