Throughout the summer, icehogs.com will feature question and answer sessions with players from the 2007-08 club. This week the IceHogs try to stick handle in a phone booth with winger Kris Versteeg.
Versteeg completed his second professional season in 2007-08 and made his National Hockey League debut with the Chicago Blackhawks. On Jan. 3, 2008, Versteeg scored his first career NHL goal. The Lethbridge, Alberta native racked up 18 goals and 31 assists in 56 games with the IceHogs and two goals and two assists in 11 games with the Blackhawks.
The winger answers a series of questions, including some from our fan mailbag:
How difficult of an adjustment is it from the hockey season to the offseason?
It’s difficult because you’re not on the ice everyday. It’s a bit tough to get back on the ice in the summer because you don’t have your wind and you’re trying to get back into shape. But coming home to be with the family and friends isn’t tough at all.
What was it like growing up in Alberta and getting to play the Calgary Flames in Calgary in your NHL debut?
It was definitely a dream come true for me. I still can’t put it into words what it was like to play that close to home in my first NHL game. To see all my friends and family, especially my mom and dad, in the stands was something that I will never forget.
Describe the feeling of getting your first NHL call up.
It was surreal. I kind of felt that it was coming in a way. I still can’t explain that feeling either, not only for me, but my family! It was cool being from Lethbridge (Alberta) and being the first guy in a long time from there to get to play in NHL.
You scored your first career NHL goal and chipped in an assist in Phoenix in front of Coyotes head coach Wayne Gretzky. How big of a thrill was that?
That was a huge thrill, scoring a goal and getting that monkey off my back and doing it against Wayne Gretzky’s team. He was my dad’s favorite player. My dad doesn’t really keep any memorabilia of any player, but he does for Gretzky. I enjoyed watching him as kid and seeing him play, so scoring a goal in front of him was very cool.
You proved that you can play at the NHL level, but you have to be consistent to stay there. What are some things that you have to improve upon to be an every day NHL player?
I guess try to keep the same game plan every game. I played well up there but an unfortunate injury dampered my progress a bit. That does make me want to get back there more-and-more though. It makes me work harder over the summer and try to get back in the lineup to help the Chicago Blackhawks.
Before this season you played in 10 playoff games between junior and the pro levels and didn’t have any goals. This past postseason, you led Rockford with six goals. Describe the pressure to perform in the playoffs.
I guess before juniors, I loved the playoff games and atmosphere. At the pro level, to play in the playoffs was a lot of fun. You‘ve got to want to win at this level and in order to get to the next level you have to win. It was fun beating Houston with the group of guys we had here, but it was also tough losing to the Wolves. We brought them to Game 7, but just came up short. We left it all out there and we didn’t have any more wind in the sails.
How long does a playoff loss like the one you experienced this past spring sit with you during the summer?
It still is kind of sitting with me. A lot of ‘what if’ type things. Losing in Game 7 is a heartbreaker and then watching Chicago win it was tough. But kudos to the Chicago Wolves for winning. They had a great team and we gave them a great battle. Our guys put in a great effort but came up short. A loss like that in a Game 7 can only make you stronger.
In the middle of your rookie season, you were traded from the Boston Bruins organization to the Chicago Blackhawks organization. Was it difficult to get traded?
It was actually pretty tough, especially during my rookie season. I really didn’t know what happened. Getting traded as a rookie, I didn’t know what I did wrong. When I got to Norfolk though, and having a coach like Mike Haviland help me along was big. That made everything a lot easier. Having a great coach in Providence in Scott Gordon and then in Norfolk with Havi, I was very lucky.
Last season the IceHogs got to play your former team, the Providence Bruins. Is there any extra motivation when you get to play your former team?
Yes, definitely! You always want to get the bragging rights against your former teammates. I was really close to a couple guys in Providence like Jonathan Sigalet and Matt Lashoff. I wasn’t too serious but I just wanted to play well and win. I enjoyed playing there but love playing with the guys here too. I just wanted to go out there and perform and win.
What do you do during the summer to take your mind and body away from hockey?
I like to golf a lot and hang out with my hockey and high school buddies from when I was growing up. I also try to get to the gym just about every day.
The following are some fan questions submitted on icehogs.com:
You are an amazing puck handler. Is that something you continually work on to stay sharp or does it come naturally? What’s your best move?
Julia from Winnebago
I really don’t know. It probably comes naturally, so I have to thank my parents! I have always worked on it my whole life though. I used to always play roller hockey and street hockey when I was a kid, where I worked a lot on stick handling.
As for my best move, I would have to say a forehand-backhand-forehand deek on a breakaway. I like to mix it up a bit, and I really couldn’t tell you what my best move is, I guess.
Would you like to see the AHL review every goal like in the NHL? Thanks for your time.
Doug from Machesney Park
Yeah I would like to see that. There are times in a game when goals and things happen so fast that the refs can’t see them clearly. I think it would be a good thing to have. It’s not fair to the refs and that they have to make a call when they aren’t sure or didn’t see a play clearly.
Did you have much down time in Rockford? If so, what was your favorite thing to do around town?
Dana from Cherry Valley
My favorite thing to do in town during downtime was probably hitting the golf courses when it was nice out. I also like to go to a lot of movies at the Machesney Park movie theater, Showplace 14.
Thanks to everyone who submitted a question this week to Kris Versteeg. Stay tuned to icehogs.com throughout the summer for more Q & As with IceHogs players.