On and off the ice Abdelkader and Miller have made the Spartan Nation proud.


Wrapping up the seasons of two Detroit Red Wings and former Spartans, Justin Abdelkader and Drew Miller

It was over, then it wasn’t, and now it’s definitely history. It hurts even worse now.

With the 3-2 loss at San Jose last night, the magical comeback from three games down by the Detroit Red Wings fell short and all of Hockeytown is in a different kind of offseason funk than in past seasons. I say that because it was just a heartbreaking way for a season to end.

To lose in a do-or-die game, with all the momentum and a chance to join NHL lore … it hurts. And as fans are already trying to piece together what worked and what didn’t during the 2010-11 season, former Michigan State players Drew Miller and Justin Abdelkader are looked at in a different light. Playing at a university not too far from where they play their professional hockey these days, the two guys have come into their own as solid contributors on arguably the best franchise in American professional sports.

Miller, who was drafted in 2003, is the younger brother of the Buffalo Sabres’ outstanding goalie, Ryan Miller. He was originally drafted by the Anaheim Ducks and also played in Tampa Bay before being claimed by Detroit through waivers.

He has become a solid third-and-fourth line player, not making many mistakes and being a consistent contributor in different phases of the game. When the Wings’ Mike Modano was hurt, Miller played admirably and actually was chosen to play ahead of Modano even when he was healthy. He has been able to keep his job on the ice by outplaying younger players in the organization, holding his own against other players trying to escape the minor leagues.

Abdelkader, on the other hand, has made a louder impact on the Red Wings. After winning a national championship with the Spartans (and scoring the game-winning goal with under 19 seconds left in the game), he was drafted 42nd overall by the Red Wings and won a Stanley Cup in his first NHL season. It was a pretty good two years for him.

After being part of the Red Wings team which lost Game 7 at home to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009, Abdelkader has become a type of fan favorite for being the team’s enforcer and willing to defend his teammates – and himself – whenever given the opportunity. He did, however, take some bone-headed penalties in the San Jose series which just concluded, costing a couple goals against his team and making some fans wish he would tone down his aggressive style of play in important moments of games.

But that is how Miller and Abdelkader play on the ice: they grind, they fight for the puck, they kill penalties, etc. They basically do the dirty work and aren’t flashy or make highlight reels. Miller had 18 points this past season and Abdelkader, or “Abs,” had 19 points. It’s not part of the Wings’ gameplan for them to be the stars and carry the team; they just need to sustain the pressure.

Unfortunately for the two players and the feverish Red Wings fan base, there will be no more penalties to kill off and no more big hits to deliver. And for it all to end in a Game 7, it hurts that much more.