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DeKeyser’s De La Salle Pilots set to face Abdelkader’s Muskegon Mona Sailors in D2 state championship game

DETROIT >> You rarely hear high school football talk banter around an NHL locker room this time of the year.

That hasn’t been the case this week inside the Wings’ dressing room.

Danny DeKeyser and Justin Abdelkader have been going back and forth all week as their schools prepare to meet in the Division 2 state championship game, Friday at Ford Field.

“I think this is pretty rare, rather unique,” said DeKeyser, who’s a graduate of De La Salle.

“The chances of this happening I would say are pretty slim,” said Abdelkader, a graduate of Muskegon Mona Shores. “I didn’t know Danny went to De La Salle until the (state) semifinals and found out they had a chance to play each other. It’s pretty neat.

“They’ve been in the finals and this is our first trip,” Abdelkader continued. “It’s exciting. We’ll have to have some sort of wager on it.”

Abdelkader’s Sailors come in with a 12-1 record, beating Farmington Hills Harrison, 25-24, in a semifinal to reach this title game.

The Wings’ forward learned of Mona Shores’ win from his dad, who called him later that afternoon.

“I know a lot of the families from around there since I still spend my summers there,” Abdelkader said. “My sister teaches at the middle school there so she knows what’s going on and my parents are around it just living in the district. It’s really exciting.”

DeKeyser’s Pilots (10-3), who needed to win their final three games of the regular season just to qualify for the playoffs, advanced with a 31-7 win over Southfield.

“I’m sticking with my guns,” DeKeyser said when asked who would win the game. “I’ve got to stick with my guys.”

Abdelkader predicted a lopsided win for his squad.

“I hope we win,” he said.

The Wings are in New Jersey Friday.

Abdelkader played football through his sophomore year of high school.

“It’s a different game than hockey was for me,” Abdelkader said. “A lot of my buddies played. I started in seventh grade. Really enjoyed it, the contact, enjoyed playing. It was a lot of fun. We were successful in middle school, but not in high school. The team has come along a long way since we played.
“It’s a different kind of game,” Abdelkader continued. “There are 11 guys, so instead of having five and a goalie there was 11, everyone has to perform to be successful.”

Abdelkader was the team’s quarterback.

“First year we ran more of a veer option,” Abdelkader said. “Second year we ran spread so we threw the ball more.

“I enjoyed running the ball, but I enjoyed passing too,” Abdelkader added. “It got tough passing the ball as the weather changed. I remember one game when it was raining I threw like four interceptions. That was our offense, we threw the ball a lot. The ball would slip, it was muddy.”

DeKeyser never played football in grade school.

“I kind of wanted to get into it, but hockey takes up so much of your time I kind of just stuck with that,” DeKeyser said.

This is Mona Shores’ first trip to the state finals, while De La Salle has been there twice – 2008 and 2006.

DeKeyser was at Ford Field watching the 2006 game as the Pilots fell to Muskegon, 32-30.

Wings set to debut their ‘all center’ line tonight against Flyers

DETROIT >> The center of attention, so to speak, in Wednesday’s Wings home game against the Philadelphia Flyers will be their third line.

Pavel Datsyuk will center Darren Helm and Stephen Weiss.

All three are natural centers.

“We might be the only line in the NHL with three natural centers, so we should have success on the dot, hopefully, and some pretty good skill with Pav and Weisser,” Helm said. “We have to find a way to click pretty early.

“There are definitely some different aspects to our games that could gel together if we find a way to click, and it is exciting for me at least, playing with those two skilled, confident guys,” Helm continued. “If we find a way to click or gel it will be fun and pretty exciting.”

Datsyuk has missed his four straight games with a groin injury and six of the last eight.

“It’s very important for us to have him back,” Weiss said. “It’s a big boost to our lineup to have him back. Anytime he misses a game, it seems like it’s too long.”

Former Wing Kris Draper said playing on a line with Datsyuk was like winning the lottery.

“It definitely feels that way,” Weiss said. “When I saw the sheet this morning I had a little grin on my face. He makes the game a lot easier for the guys that play around him.”

Datsyuk is considered one of the best two-way players in the game if not the best.

“His ability to get the puck back is just one of the skill sets that separate him from a lot of other guys in the league, his ability to play defensively and steal pucks and turn it into offense,” Weiss said.

Datsyuk has been limited to 45 games in 2013-14 due to a knee injury and concussion. This season he’s already missed 11 of 21 games due to a separated shoulder and groin pull.

“He’s a guy I grew up watching, really and now to have a chance to play with him, it’s pretty cool,” Weiss said. “But you can’t be worried about that too much. I’ve just got to worry about what I’ve got to do and hopefully we can find some chemistry, the three of us.”

Datsyuk has five goals and six assists in 10 games this season.

“I thought initially it took him a bit to get back and then he was on fire and got hurt again,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “The big thing for Pav is as you get a little older in your career your physical fitness and the amount of care you take in keeping your body healthy is so important.

“He’s a high-end player for us,” Babcock continued. “I haven’t put him with (Henrik Zetterberg) on purpose just because … if he gets going maybe I’ll do that but right now leave him where he is and play him on a separate power play. I don’t think you can ever go wrong with having Datsyuk in your lineup.”

Not only is the line all centers, but they’ve all missed significant playing time over the past three seasons, combining to miss 306 regular-season games over that span – Weiss (140), Helm (83), Datsyuk (83).

Weiss had two goals in his return to the lineup Monday, doubling his output since joining the Wings two off-seasons ago.

“All signs are pointing towards being over the hump,” Weiss said.

Brendan Smith not ready to return from hand infection after fight with Columbus’ Nick Foligno

DETROIT >> The Detroit Red Wings aren’t known for having players that fight on their roster.

And after what happened to Brendan Smith, fighting may be forbidden from this point on for any player in that locker room.

Smith returned to practice Tuesday after missing the last six days with an infection in his left hand from a fight he had with Columbus’ Nick Foligno in the third period of a Wings’ 5-0 win.

“I think I hit Foligno in the mouth and apparently there’s a lot of bacteria in the mouth so I ended up getting infected that way,” Smith said. “It was just a fluke incident. Sometimes it can get cut open. A lot of times nothing will happen but it was just unlucky that time.”

The fight was the Wings’ only one of the season.

Smith had surgery to clean out the wound and is on antibiotics.

“It was pretty bad,” said Smith, who did finish the game. “It wasn’t until the morning. It kind of woke me up and it was swollen and throbbing a little bit.”
Detroit is behind Chicago, Florida and New Jersey for fewest fighting majors in the league. Each of those teams have three.

“You can’t really, it’s so split-second kind of thing but I think at the end of the day, you just play the game hard,” Smith said when asked if he will think twice before dropping the gloves again. “If something happens, you answer the bell. Obviously you want to be aware of what you’re doing; you want to make sure you’re not going to get yourself hurt. You make sure that you’re not at the end of your shift when you’re tired so there’s a chance you’ll get hurt. These are all things that you’ve got to take into effect. It’s never going to stop me from being physical or anything.”

Smith is eligible to come off short-term injured reserve Wednesday, but it’s more likely he’ll miss his fourth straight game.

“I think I’ve been playing pretty well and all of a sudden a fluke incident like that gets me hurt,” Smith said. “It’s frustrating. But the other thing is it could be a lot worse. If we didn’t catch it and I played another game and got more stuff from my glove, it could have been a lot worse. I could have been out for a month. You can look at it as a blessing in disguise that our docs figured it out quick. It was one of those things, instead of taking one step forward, two steps back, we did the opposite. I’m pretty happy with how everything’s gone and obviously it is frustrating but it looks like I’ll be back soon as possible.”

Datsyuk a game-time decision Wednesday; centered a line with Helm and Weiss in practice

DETROIT >> From the looks of things, Pavel Datsyuk is set to return to the Wings’ lineup.

And it could come as early as Wednesday when the Detroit hosts the Philadelphia Flyers at Joe Louis Arena.

“I feel good,” Datsyuk said after practice Tuesday. “We’ll see (Wednesday) morning. I’m happy to skate full practice with team.”

Datsyuk has missed his four straight games with a groin injury and six of the last eight.

“Be better myself,” Datsyuk said when asked what more he felt he needed to do before declaring himself fit to go. “No (pain), it’s fine. Everything is fine so far. I need a little bit (of) pace with team, a little bit. Everybody’s flying.”

Datsyuk centered a line with Darren Helm and Stephen Weiss as wingers. All three players are centers.

Datsyuk also doesn’t want to be in-and-out of the lineup due to a lingering injury.
“It’s kind of difficult, what happened first time, looked like I was ready, but jumped in too early,” Datsyuk said.

Weiss nets a pair in Wings’ win over Senators; he said he ‘never lost confidence’

DETROIT >> If Stephen Weiss was looking for a glimmer of hope that he’s still the point-producing forward the Wings signed two offseasons ago, he got just that Monday night at Joe Louis Arena.

Weiss scored twice in Detroit’s 4-3 win over the Ottawa Senators.

It was just his second game this season with the Wings.

Due to a lingering groin injury that developed into a sports hernia, Weiss has played in just 28 since the start of 2013.

It was also his first goal with the Wings since Oct. 14, 2013 and his first two-goal game since Feb. 26, 2012 while still with the Florida Panthers.

“I never lost confidence,” Weiss said. “It was just a matter of when you haven’t played in so long, coach has a tough time putting you in situations where you’ve always played and rightfully so. Even in practice, you’re not playing power play and getting those reps I have throughout my career. It’s just a matter of sticking with it. Hopefully get a break here or there to stay in the lineup for a couple games, build some momentum and off you go.”

Weiss had a goal in each of his conditioning games this past weekend with Grand Rapids.

“Scoring,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said when asked what Weiss can add to the lineup. “The guy’s got 60 points in the league a ton of times. That doesn’t happen by accident. But in your career, when you get hurt and you miss a couple of years, there’s no guarantee you’re getting it back.

“Weisser has played (three) games, two in the American League, and he’s got (four) goals,” Babcock continued. “Scoring is scoring. Not many guys can do that. We acquired him initially because we thought he could help us score and he spent two years on IR basically. Hopefully he can get his confidence back and get going.”

Weiss, 31, managed to play just 26 games last season totaling two goals, two assists and a minus-4. He had sport hernia surgery on Dec. 23 and then a second procedure on April 21 to repair an issue with scar tissue.

“I felt good physically,” said Weiss, who had 10:42 of ice time Monday. “We didn’t play a ton, but when I was out there I would still like to create more. It was a decent start. I felt healthy, had good legs and hopefully it just keeps snowballing in that direction.”

Weiss drove to the net hard and chipped in a loose puck over Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson’s right shoulder to put the Wings up 3-1 just past the halfway point of the game.

“That’s where you’re going to score goals,” Weiss said. “It was nice having pucks lying around there. Sometimes you go there and they’re going off skates and away from you and tonight they were there lying there for me. It’s nice to get those breaks.”

His second goal came in similar fashion, positioning himself in front of Anderson. After Anderson made a right pad save on Darren Helm, Weiss calmly backhanded a shot over the goal line.

“This is the best league in the world,” said Weiss, who played left wing on a line with Tomas Jurco and centered by Darren Helm. “It’s hard enough when you’re in a groove and playing well never mind when you’ve missed so many games, you’re in, you’re out, you’re in, you’re out. You’re playing different positions. It’s tough to do what you’ve done throughout your career.

“Like I said, it felt good to be in the lineup, it was nice to get a couple of goals and get the win,” Weiss added. “But I’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

Weiss had a rough preseason, registering just an assist and was a minus-4 in six games.

“Anytime you can score it gives you confidence,” Weiss said. “You remember how to do it. I always said it takes a bounce or something to go your way and then it starts snowballing. Hockey is funny that way. You see if with a lot of guys. To get those two down (in Grand Rapids) was huge. I had some bounces and hopefully I’ll keep scoring.”

The Wings targeted Weiss on the first day of free agency two off-seasons ago and landed the center for a hefty five-year deal worth $24.5 million.

Weiss has had scored 20 or more goals four times in his last seven seasons in Florida.

For Kindl to stay in lineup Babcock looking fo him to ‘just flat-out compete’

DETROIT >> Defenseman Jakub Kindl returns after being a healthy scratch for the last four games.

“Compete, just flat-out compete,” Babcock said when asked what Kindl has to do to remain in the lineup. “Get pucks, make plays. Compete. That’s all part of being a good teammate, being competitive, being ultra-competitive, being good to help your team win.”

Kindl, who replaced Brian Lashoff in the lineup, was benched midway through the Wings game on Nov. 14 against Chicago.

“Sometimes people think whether you like a guy gets in the way – you don’t confuse the player and the person one bit,” Babcock said. “You’re in the winning business, you’re about putting players in the best situation to have success and whoever can help you win that’s who you play.”

Weiss returns to Wings’ lineup. “It’s a good opportunity for him,” Babcock says.

DETROIT >> Stephen Weiss will be back in the Wings’ lineup tonight at home against the Ottawa Senators.

And for how long he remains in it will be up to him.

“It’s a good opportunity for him, he’s going to have to grab ahold of it, obviously,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said after the team’s morning skate Monday at Joe Louis Arena. “He’s had a good NHL career. It’s been sidetracked for two years.

“The way I look at it is I’m in the day to say winning business,” Babcock continued. “I get up each day and I’m trying to find a way to win the game and I’ll play whoever gives us the best chance to win.”

Weiss, who has played in one other game this season, has played in 47 out of a possible 150 regular season games for his teams since the start of 2013.

“Now it’s up to him,” Babcock said. “We’re in the business of winning games and everyone’s got to command their share of the ice and get their share of the ice time. We’ll see what happens.”

Weiss will play left wing on line Tomas Jurco and centered by Darren Helm.

“I’ve played a few games (at wing), but I’ve been a center all my life,” Weiss said. “It’s just different.

“I don’t know how to really explain it,” Weiss continued. “You’ve just got to be more aware in the D zone, a little bit different coverages. I’m just used to playing center and being able to move the puck both ways. On the wing, you’re more so limited to one side of the ice. It’ll be fine.”

During his two-game conditioning stint in Grand Rapids he scored a goal in each game.

“It was nice to play some minutes and get through the games (with) no problem,” Weiss said. “I would have liked to get a little bit more accomplished, but it was nice to score a couple and get that feeling back. It’s been a while since I’ve scored a goal.”