DETROIT - The smiles of the 17 girls on Regina High School’s hockey team could be seen across Joe Louis Arena as they stepped onto the ice for a practice they aren’t likely to forget anytime soon.
“I was so excited,” said junior goaltender Alex LaRue. “I’ve only been here for games before and I’ve never been this close to the ice before but it was so much fun. It was a great experience being able to walk around and just see The Joe and everything from a point of view that I’ve never been able to see before so it was great.”
Regina, a Catholic all-girls school in suburban Warren, received the opportunity to practice at The Joe by participating in AT&T’s “It Can Wait” campaign, an initiative that focused on collecting pledges against texting and driving. The local high school that gained the most pledges won an hour of practice time at the Red Wings’ arena plus a school assembly with forward Justin Abdelkader.
Regina collected 565 pledges to support the campaign, surpassing their total number of students by 101 tallies, through word of mouth among family and friends.
“It makes me happy to see that because they don’t get that many opportunities as an all-girls school I don’t think,” said Regina athletic director Diane Laffey. “I mean how often would they get to come down here number one and meet people, and now they get to meet Justin Abdelkader, which they’re all excited about so it’s like, it’s an experience that they will remember the rest of their lives and to see them this happy makes me happy.”
The parents and staff in the stands couldn’t agree more. Students Against Drunk Driving moderator Deborah Biondo, who organized the “It Can Wait” cause at Regina, still couldn’t believe they were actually at The Joe as she watched the team soak in the experience.
“I think I’m still in disbelief because there are so many schools in the tri-county area that participated and we have a relatively small school, so it’s really quite remarkable that we were able to rally not only our student body but I think a lot of the faculty and staff were really motivated,” Biondo said.
|PHOTOS: Regina High School practices at The Joe |
And just when it seemed like the girls couldn’t get any more excited, Abdelkader joined them on the ice.
“I love being out here with my team and everything and just get to get inside Justin’s head and understand what the commitment is really to becoming a professional player and just how much love and passion he has for the game is really nice,” LaRue said. “I know me and my whole team share the same passion and we all love each other and it was definitely a great experience to be out here with my sisters.”
Abdelkader took the girls through several drills, answered any questions they had and gave them a little bit of advice that he tries to live by every day.
“I talked to them about how coach (Mike) Babcock always stresses each and every one of us to be every-dayers, which is to bring it every day and I think that message can be brought to, whether it’s to school or to the work place just being an every-dayer and bringing the best you can to your job, to your schoolwork or whatever you end up doing,” Abdelkader explained.
The 27-year-old did get one question that he wasn’t expecting, though: an invitation to prom.
“I mean I asked him to prom, so I can tell my kids that, like oh yeah I asked a famous NHL player myself,” said senior Catherine Thibault, who knelt on one knee and handed Abdelkader a puck on which she had written, “Prom?!”
“He laughed,” Thibault continued. “I think he thought I was kidding, I mean I was kidding but I think he was surprised.”
It was a moment that neither one of them will likely forget.
“Prom, yeah she asked,” Abdelkader said with a smile. “Obviously I wouldn’t be able to fulfill that, it was cute anyways.”
All fun and joking aside, Abdelkader understands the importance of the “It Can Wait” campaign and will continue to stress its message when he hosts an assembly at Regina next week with radio broadcaster Ken Kal.
“It’s a great initiative that AT&T has put forth across the country kind of connecting athletes and putting them in roles where they can talk to girls today, but be at the high school next week and talk about the importance of keeping your phones away,” Abdelkader said. “This day and age, it’s scary everyone’s on their phones it seems like 24/7 whether it’s in your car or not in your car so just stress the importance of it can wait and it doesn’t need to be done while in your car so it’s been positive.”
Follow Andrea Nelson on Twitter @Nelson_Andrea