It’s been a year to remember so far for Detroit Red Wings prospect Justin Abdelkader. First, he helped guide Team USA to a bronze medal at the 2007 WJC in Sweden and now hopes to help his Michigan State Spartans team to their first National Championship since 1986.
Hockey’s Future spoke with Justin Abdelkader after practice on Wednesday at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
HF: How does it feel to be here at the Frozen Four?
JA: It’s pretty exciting with the atmosphere. Obviously, there’s only four teams left so we’re one of the top four teams in the country. It’s kind of nice for how we ended the season. We were like 1-4-1 in our last six games. It’s similar to how we were in the playoffs but we made a good playoff run, so it feels good to be here.
HF: Obviously coming out of the Midwest Regional bracket, many people were picking Notre Dame, so it has to feel pretty good for you guys to be able to not only get here but also get here by beating them.
JA: Yeah, especially since they were both the CCHA regular season and playoff championships. We kind of felt that we had something to prove because they had the better season and won our league championship. We didn’t face them in the (CCHA) playoffs but we got our shot in the Midwest Regional. It was a good game and I’m glad that we were able to beat them to get here.
HF: Earlier in the season, you played with Team USA at the WJC and won a bronze medal. Tell me a bit about what the experience was like for you.
JA: It was awesome, but being in Sweden for three weeks it was tough being away over the Christmas break. It was an awesome experience, being able to meet guys from around different college teams and the Canadian major juniors. Some of these guys are going to be All-Stars in the NHL someday. I got a different style of coaching from Ron Ralston along with Coach (Phil) Housley and Coach (Nate) Leaman. They’re all really good coaches. I felt that we kind of got off to a slow start losing that first game to Germany but then after that, we got back on track after that. We barely got into the medal round. To have to beat Sweden to get the bronze was pretty special for us.
HF: What do you feel are some of the similarities in being here with some of the best players in college hockey and at the WJC with some of the best players in your age group in the world?
JA: I think it’s the fact that you’re going up against some of the best teams. Every team here is good and every team over in Sweden was good too. Here at the Frozen Four the competition level is higher because everyone wants to get to the championship game and everyone wants to win the championship. I think that that was the same mentality over in Sweden. Everyone wants to win the gold and the competitive level gets higher.
HF: You’re playing with Tim Kennedy and Tim Crowder and the three of you just click so well together. What is about playing with those guys that makes it all work?
JA: We have good chemistry on and off the ice. We all get along really well. We’re all the same class and live in the dorms together. It just seems like every time we’re all on the ice together we know where the other two are going to be and what they’re going to do with the puck. We just click together and it has worked out good.
HF: What areas do you feel are the areas where you’ve really grown as far as the various aspects of your game is concerned?
JA: Coach Comley really stresses defensive zone play and how important that is. I guess you can call us a defensive team because our coach stresses defense before offense. So I think my defensive game has really come along over the past couple of years. I think that I’ve grown offensively too. I just feel that there’s so much more that I can improve on but it’s been a good two years so far.
HF: You’re also one of the more physical guys on the team. Do you feel that it is one of your strongest assets?
JA: Yeah, for sure. I like being able to go out there throwing the body around and getting physical. If I don’t put points up one night, then I can go out there, throw the body around or maybe blocking shots. It’s not just points for me. It’s getting physical, blocking shots and doing whatever it takes to win.
HF: Have you had any contact with the Red Wings at all?
JA: No, not much. They just kind of stay away from me and just let me do my own thing during the season. I usually talk with them after the season, but during the season I don’t really worry much about it.
HF: Obviously the proximity between Detroit and East Lansing is relatively short.
JA: Yeah, they do come to a number of our games though.
Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.