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The Daily: Justin Abdelkader Has Bumpy Start in Grand Rapids

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Justin Abdelkader was -4 with two shots on goal in his first game with the Grand Rapids Griffins since signing a pro tryout contract

The first game for Justin Abdelkader in more than 11 years with the Grand Rapids Griffins was not all that he hoped it would be.

The Griffins lost 5-2 to the Milwaukee Admirals Saturday and Justin Abdelkader and Taro Hirose were on the ice for four of the Griffins’ goals.

“I don’t think his stat line is indicative how well he played,” Griffins coach Ben Simon said. “We’ll see what happens. For all intent and purposes for a guy who hasn’t played that long, I thought he was fine.”

Justin Abdelkader, 34, signed a pro tryout contract with the Griffins with the hope of perhaps earning a contract with an NHL team.  The Red Wings bought out his contract before the 2020-21 NHL season. He played in Switzerland, winning a championship, there and then was named captain of Team USA for the World Championships. He was playing well for the Americans only to suffer a knee injury that prevented him from being ready at the start of this season.

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“I thought he got a little bit better as the game went on,”  Simon said.  “Obviously he hasn’t played in a long time. But as the game progressed, I thought he felt a little more comfortable with the skating, the pace of play and just being involved in a hockey game again.”

Conditioning a Factor

Abdelkader jumped back into competition without any training camp, scrimmages, or any form of game action.

“I think fatigue was definitely there,” Abdelkader said.  “At first (it was) OK, but the legs got a little tired, (I’m) working back to getting to 100 percent.”

Abdelkader said it is the small areas of the game, like in puck battles and taking or receiving hits, where he needs to find his timing.

But overall, Abdelkader was thrilled to be playing again. He had plenty friends and family in attendance.

“It was kind of surreal being back here in Grand Rapids,” Abdelkader said. “It brought back a lot of great memories. This is where I started my pro career. Being from Muskegon on the west side of the state, it feels like I’m home here.”

Abdelkader’s presence in the lineup established a new Grand Rapids’ record for the longest span between Griffins’ appearances. Abdelkader went 4,305 days, or 11 years nine months and 12 days (April 10, 2010 to Jan. 22, 2022).

Gemel Smith, recently acquired by the Red Wings on waivers, played for the Griffins. He’s on a conditioning assignment to the Griffins.

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