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April 3, 2014

Red Wings Abdelkader visits Warren Regina

School won visit through online vote

By Jason Carmel Davis
C & G Sports Writer

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Detroit Red Wings left winger Justin Abdelkader paid a visit to Warren Regina April 3. The school won the visit by coming out on top in an online vote that pitted 26 schools against one another. Abdelkader is pictured talking with players from Regina's hockey team during a March 26 skate at Joe Louis Arena.

WARREN — Detroit Red Wings left winger Justin Abdelkader spent a majority of the morning of April 3 visiting Warren Regina High School and discussing the dangers of texting and driving with the Saddlelites’ student body.

The students at Regina, in competition with other metro Detroit high schools, voted online to win AT&T’s recent It Can Wait contest — aimed at curbing texting while driving.

The school, with a student population of fewer than 500 students, beat out 25 other schools to win the contest. In coming out on top, the Regina hockey team got the opportunity to skate at Joe Louis Arena March 26 with Justin Abdelkader, who also fielded questions from Regina students during his visit.

“It was a blessing to have him come,” said Regina senior Megan Taylor, who also serves as captain of the Saddlelites’ hockey team. “I know he’s not only an inspiration to the hockey team, but to a lot of other people, so it’s great when you can have someone like that involved in this type of campaign. It sends a message to a lot of people.”

AT&T launched the It Can Wait program in 2010, according to AT&T Media Relations Specialist Teresa Mask. For this particular program, AT&T looked at schools in metro Detroit that have hockey programs. Fifty-two schools were eligible to participate, Mask said, and 26 took part in the competition.

The Regina student body filled the school gym the morning of April 3, with the majority of those in attendance clad in the color red or in Red Wings gear. Red Wings radio play-by-play announcer Ken Cal spoke before introducing Abdelkader, who was welcomed with a chorus of cheers.

Abdelkader, drafted by the Red Wings in 2005, told a story of a close friend of his who lost a friend in an automobile accident after another driver who was texting swerved into her lane. Abdelkader, a native of Muskegon who played collegiately at Michigan State University, made it clear how important each student is to many people, and how texting and driving can have an adverse effect on several lives.

“To take your eyes off of the road for even just a split second can be the difference between life and death,” he said. “It’s really sad. It really hits home. I know everybody thinks of themselves as professional texters. That’s not how it works. You have to keep your eyes on the road at all times. If you keep your phone away from you, there’s not urge to grab (it). It’s not worth it to risk your life.”

Regina senior class president Emily Davis said students found out about the program through Students Against Destructive Decisions Director Debbie Biondo, who received an award for her work with the program over the last 25 years. Davis said Regina students voted constantly.

After speaking and taking questions from students, Abdelkader posed for photos with each class and for some individual pictures.

“We knew today was coming, but it was still a shock to meet Justin Abdelkader because he’s famous in Detroit,” Davis said. “It brought us all together, and that’s especially great for the senior class because we’re graduating next month and we won’t have many more opportunities to get together like this.”

Regina Athletic Director Diane Laffey said the students were focused on winning the contest. She said she and other faculty had no idea how often the students voted.

“So I was shocked when I found out. The hockey team loved going to Joe Louis Arena. That’s something the girls will never forget. And (Abdelkader) is such a down-to-earth guy.”

Taylor said having the opportunity to skate at Joe Louis Arena was an amazing experience. She admitted not believing Regina could win the contest, since it was facing off against schools with much larger student populations.

“It made us really proud that we won. I’m pretty sure the whole hockey team cried tears of joy knowing we’d get to skate at Joe Louis Arena. To be able to skate with a Red Wings player is a dream come true.”

Wearing the winged wheel is also a dream come true for Abdelkader. Growing up, he said he was the only person in his family who played hockey. He talked of having a hand-me-down pair of skates and not being able to stand upright his first time on the ice.

“But I fell in love with the game,” Abdelkader said. “I was blessed to excel at a young age. It’s a game I fell in love with instantly.”

Abdelkader said he’s very fortunate to be a member of the Red Wings — an organization he believes is the best in all of sports. The team is on the cusp of a 23rd straight postseason appearance, which, Abdelkader said, is unheard of in the salary cap era.

“(The playoffs streak) shows how great an organization Detroit is, and this is Hockeytown for a reason. There’s nothing like playing at (Joe Louis Arena),” he said. “It was always a dream of mine to play for the Red Wings. I didn’t know if it would happen, but I just went out and worked hard every day and tried to be the best player on the ice. I tried to be the most competitive and lead by example. It’s been a true blessing to play for the Red Wings.”

The opportunity has given Abdelkader the chance to make an impact on many people, including the Regina students, and he is conscious of that fact, which is why he participates in programs like the It Can Wait campaign.

“I just want to get the point across that most texts that are sent out are the kinds you can wait to answer,” Abdelkader said. “It’s really unfortunate that people can die from these kinds of things. If you can just put your phone away for however long you’re on the road, or just pull over to the side of the road if you have to answer, that’ll save lives.”