Detroit Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader is the first Arab-American to play in the NHL. There has been three Arab-Canadians to play in the NHL, but Abdelkader is the first American to play in the league and to also have an Arabic descent.
Justin Abdelkader is the son of Joseph and Sheryl Abdelkader. The surname Abdelkader is Arabic. His paternal grandfather, Yusuf Abdul Qadir, a Muslim born in Palestine, emigrated from the Middle East country of Jordan at the age of 19 to Muskegon, where he later met a Polish girl named Susie.
According to an article on www.wzzm13.com, Justin’s uncle, Jamal Abdelkader, said, “They (Yusuf and Susie) eventually fell in love and got married.” “My father died in 1993; my mom passed in March,2009, at age 91. She cooked Middle Eastern food and Polish food. She was equally good at making grape leaves, tabbouleh and pierogi.”
Justin played collegiate hockey for three years at Michigan State University. During his sophomore year in 2006-07, Justin scored the game-winning goal in the NCAA championship game with 18.9 seconds left, giving the Spartans their first national title in 21 years. He was later named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2007 Frozen Four. In his final season at Michigan State, Justin was honored as the CCHA’s Best Defensive Forward and also received the 2008 Mike and Marion Ilitch Humanitarian Award.
On April 3, 2008, Abdelkader signed a one-game amateur tryout with the Red Wings and was to play that night against the Columbus Blue jackets. In doing so, he forfeited his college eligibility for the 2008–09 season. The following day, Abdelkader signed a three-year contract with the Red Wings.
Justin played for the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League (AHL) his first year out of college. Justin scored 52 points, 24 goals and 28 assists, in 76 games.
In 2009, Justin scored his first two goals of his young NHL career in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Pittsburg Penguins. The Red Wings later loss the series to the Penguins in 7 games.
During the 2009-2010 season, Justin played 50 games for the Red Wings scoring 3 goals, while adding 3 assists. He was then re-signed by the Red Wings on a two-year extension worth $1.575 million.
The 2010-2011 season was Abdelkader’s first full NHL season as a Red Wing. He played in 74 games, scoring 7 goals, and adding 12 assists.
During the 2011-2012 season, he missed only one game to finish with 8 goals and 22 points in 81 games.
During the shortened 2012-2013 season, Abdelkader finished with 10 goals and 13 points in 48 games.
For those of you who don’t know much about Abdelkader, or even the game of hockey itself, a forward is suppose to have a defense first kind of mentality. For those of you who’ve watched Abdelkader play, you know that he is one of the few players in the NHL that knows how to lay down a vicious hit.
According to the article on www.wzzm13.com, his family would tell you that hat their diverse ethnic background is richer than their hockey history.
It took a sarcastic pronunciation of Justin’s last name from one of my friends that made me look deeper into the Abdelkader family history. As an Arab-American myself, I have to admit that once I realized Justin had an Arabic background to him, I was close to telling my friends that he was one of my long lost cousins from Muskegon.
All jokes aside, its nice to see someone with the same background as you play professional in any sport, but especially in a sport where its rare for one of his kind to be playing.
It’s safe to say that with an Arabic background, winning a Frozen Four Championship for Michigan State (the university which I attend), and playing for the Detroit Red Wings (my local professional hockey team), Justin has become my new favorite player to watch in the NHL.