CHICAGO -- It started with a friendly suggestion made by Jonathan Toews on Thursday night, when he and some other Chicago Blackhawks met up for dinner with former Hawks Kris Versteeg and Jack Skille, who are now Florida Panthers.
"I was willing to take 'Steeger' to the hair salon and get him a haircut, but he didn't want to do that," said Toews on Friday morning, referring to the long, blond hair Versteeg is sporting these days. "He just wanted to hang out at the restaurant. Good to see him a little bit, though."
Florida will face Chicago on Friday night at the United Center (8:30 p.m.), but the game could feel a little bit like an old Blackhawks inter-squad scrimmage between the whistles -- thanks to the Panthers being constructed by former Chicago general manager Dale Tallon, who's collected four Hawks from the 2010 Stanley Cup team plus Skille.
That 2010 Hawks team had great locker room chemistry and thrived off subtle jabs at each other off the ice. Thus, Toews' crack about Versteeg's hair was not unexpected by the recipient -- who's making his first trip back to the Madhouse on Madison since helping Chicago win Game 5 of the 2010 Cup Final by scoring a goal.
In fact, Versteeg was ready with a comeback for Toews after Florida's Friday morning skate when told of the haircut quip.
"It's always been a thing of [Toews'] … try and get inside someone else's mind, when really you can get inside his mind before he can get inside of yours," Versteeg said. "So last night at the restaurant he let me know about it, but [the hair's] not going to go anywhere anytime soon."
Blackhawks star forward Patrick Kane also got in a few barbs on Versteeg, who was definitely one of the leaders of Chicago's Kangaroo Court two seasons ago. Asked whether he thinks Versteeg will show off his "rap skills" again for the special occasion of his return -- something he did in front of millions at the Hawks' Cup parade -- Kane just laughed.
"You call those skills?" he said. "I don't know if you could call those skills. That was pretty embarrassing, so hopefully we don't see any of that for a while."
Versteeg, however, said he hasn't even come close to giving up his interest in musical performance.
"I've actually been writing a few things here and there and I'll be coming out with a music video, but that's actually in the near future," he said, trying to stay straight-faced. "That's actually a work in progress."
Kane, Toews and Versteeg all agreed on one thing -- playing this game on Friday night ought to be a blast, especially when it comes to the banter between the former teammates. Florida also has former Hawks Brian Campbell, Tomas Kopecky, John Madden and Jack Skille likely playing.
"There's always old stories coming up and I think they'll be some pretty tough competition," Toews said. "It might get a little heated out there. We'll see."
Kane said it's probably going to be a little weird seeing them all wearing different uniforms inside the United Center -- not to mention trading some friendly trash talk during stoppages.
"They were all big parts of our team and it's fun to see them all, for sure," Kane said. "It's almost kind of like it's not a real hockey game. There's a lot of laughing and joking around and having fun, but at the same time you want to beat them, too. It's a little bit different, but it's definitely fun."