Not only did Justin Abdelkader receive the tremendous opportunity to represent the stars and stripes of Team USA in the 2014 IIHF World Championships, but he was also chosen as the captain of the team.
Abdelkader, along with alternate captains Craig Smith (Univ. of Wisconsin/Nashville Predators), Colin McDonald (Providence College/New York Islanders), and Tim Stapleton (Univ. of Minnesota Duluth/AK Bars Kazan of the KHL), will have the responsibility of leading a very young Team USA throughout the tournament.
Justin Abdelkader is currently a forward for the Detroit Red Wings in the NHL and also an MSU hockey alum who scored the game winning goal in the 2007 NCAA Championship game. Abdelkader played three seasons for MSU from 2005-06 to 2007-08 before going to the NHL. In his junior year, Abdelkader was named the alternate captain of the team, but he has never been a captain at the professional level.
Although he is only 27, Abdelkader is the fifth oldest player on the 25 man roster. With the average age of the roster being 24.4 years old, there are a lot of players that are lacking international experience at the professional level on Team USA; but nearly all of the players on the roster have international experience at the junior level, including Abdelkader.
The forward played seven games during the 2007 World Junior Championships. He had two assists and 10 penalty minutes in Team USA’s run to the Bronze Medal. Abdelkader also played eight games in the World Championships last year where his stats totaled one goal, three assists, and four penalty minutes in a disappointing seventh place finish for Team USA.
There were a few likely considerations when Abdelkader was named the captain of Team USA. Beyond the goalies, Abdelkader is the third oldest player on the roster. Of the two players that are older than him, one plays in professionally in Russia (KHL) and the other is playing in his first international tournament. So it makes sense that Abdelkader was named the captain. He is looked at as a veteran by his much younger teammates. Plus, he provides the necessary experience at the international level where he knows what it is going to take to go deep in the tournament.
This is another example of the great work the MSU hockey program has accomplished in giving quality talent to the professional level. MSU has had the third most players drafted into the NHL all-time behind Minnesota and Michigan, as well as countless others that joined the NHL ranks as undrafted free agents.
In their program’s history, MSU has won three national championships to go along with a multitude of conference titles and GLI titles. MSU alums such as Ryan Miller, Rod Brind’Amour, David Booth, Jim Slater, and Duncan Keith have all had great success in the NHL over the last 10 years on their respective teams. MSU was in the top five amongst NCAA teams that had former players playing in the NHL this year when 17 MSU alums suited up for at least one NHL game during the 2013-14 season. Abdelkader being named the captain of Team USA is just another success in the great tradition of MSU hockey players at the professional level.
Team USA lost their first game of the tournament to Russia on Monday. Although the United States outshot Russia 40-23, it was nowhere near enough. Russia routed the USA by a score of 6-1. Abdelkader did record his first and only goal of the tournament for Team USA in the game.
With the loss to Russia, Team USA now has two wins and one loss in the tournament through Tuesday. Let us see if Abdelkader can rally the troops as captain and bounce back for their next game against Latvia in Game Four of the preliminary round on Thursday.
Max Benoit is a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports.
Photo: Jonathan Yales