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Wings have rooting interest in prep finals

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
A 2008 graduate of Warren De La Salle, Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser is rooting for his Pilots to knock off Justin Abdelkader's alma mater, Muskegon Mona Shores, in the state football finals. (Photo by Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT Justin Abdelkader and Danny DeKeyser have had plenty to chirp about this week as their high school alma maters get set to duke it out on the gridiron.

Abdelkader’s Muskegon Mona Shores will battle DeKeyser’s Warren De La Salle in the state’s Division 2 state championship game this Friday at 1 p.m.

It’s not unusual for teammates on pro teams to seek bragging rights in matchups of their collegiate alma maters, but dipping down to the prep level is definitely something unique in hockey circles.

“It’s pretty slim,” Abdelkader said of the chances. “I didn’t know Danny went to De La Salle until the semifinals and found out they had a chance to play each other. It’s pretty neat.”

This week, the Red Wings’ teammates received plenty of attention from local media seeking predictions for the football game, which will be played at Ford Field, the home of the NFL’s Detroit Lions.

Both schools also sent football jerseys to their famous Red Wings alumni to help the pair get into the spirit of the game.

“It’s pretty cool,” said DeKeyser, wearing a No. 65 purple and gold jersey. “I think this is pretty rare, rather unique.”

DeKeyser didn’t play football during his four years at the all-boys Catholic school located in suburban Detroit. But he did attend his share of games as a student.

“I went to a few games,” he said. “It was fun. A good time.”

Abdelkader played football in his first two years at Mona Shores, where he played quarterback for the Sailors, who managed to win just three games in each of those seasons.

“First year we ran more of a veer option. Second year we ran spread so we threw the ball more,” said Abdelkader, who graduated in 2005. “I enjoyed both. I enjoyed running the ball, but I enjoyed passing too. It got tough passing the ball as the weather changed. I remember one game when it was raining I threw like four interceptions. That was our offense, we threw the ball a lot. The ball would slip, it was muddy.”

Both players have followed the playoff journey of their respective schools, unfortunately, their busy hockey schedule hasn’t permitted them time to cheer on their teams in person.

The Red Wings leave for New Jersey on Thursday evening. They play the Devils at the Prudential Center Friday night, but both guys have family and friends who will text them updates during the afternoon.

“It’s exciting,” Abdelkader said. “I know a lot of the families from around there. I still spend my summers there. My sister teaches at the middle school there so she knows what’s going on and my parents are around it just living in the district. It’s really exciting.”

The 12-1 Sailors have reached the finals in thrilling fashion, using a third-string quarterback in the state semifinals when the other two passers went down with injuries.

Mona Shores’ offense is averaging 36 points in four postseason victories, which has Abdelkader feeling confident enough to predict a 42-17 win for his Sailors.

“Our offense is just too explosive for De La Salle,” he said.

The Pilots weathered the injury bug early in the season and are healthy again, especially on defense, where DeKeyser believes the Pilots will ultimately control this showdown, and salvage a 24-13 win.

“You see teams in the regular season that have been healthy all year and get into the playoffs and get knocked out in the first round,” said DeKesyer, a 2008 graduate. “You see teams that squeak into the playoffs that have injuries all year and then get healthy and start getting on a roll. That’s just how it is.”

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