The following is excerpted from the January 2014 issue of Blackhawks Magazine. Pick up the newest issue of the magazine at the next Blackhawks home game, or by calling the Blackhawks Store at (800) GO-HAWKS.
Kris Versteeg can do it all. He can score, he can scrap, he can sing. Also, he can elaborate on how enjoyable it is to be back for his second tour with the Blackhawks. Whether the versatile Versteeg could have been in Hollywood instead of hockey is unknown, because his promising career as an actor ended suddenly due to an unfortunate incident in his precocious youth. Versteeg shared the story — among others -— with Blackhawks Magazine.
Could anybody be happier about returning to Chicago, where you won a Stanley Cup in 2010?
Only my dog, Beauty. He’s a Bernese mountain dog, a big fat baby gentle giant of 120 pounds who loves snow. In Florida, we would take Beauty outside for a bathroom break. Then he’d run back in to sit by the air conditioning. Here, Beauty goes crazy in the snow.
Must be a great watchdog.
When he’s not going from couch to couch, sometimes with me carrying him. I don’t know how Beauty feels about me, but when my fiancée, Brittany, is around, he keeps his eyes glued on her. If anybody got near Brittany, that could be trouble.
Did you ever think you would be a Blackhawk again?
Never. When I was traded to the Maple Leafs after the 2010 season, I talked with [Blackhawks Vice President/General Manager] Stan Bowman. I knew he had to do certain things because of the salary cap, but I told him I would like to come back if it was possible.
I’m in Minnesota with the Florida Panthers in the middle of November, having dinner with Dany Heatley at his house. I check my phone eventually and see two missed calls from our general manager, Dale Tallon. Chicago! Slept half an hour, caught the first flight in the morning. Beautiful.
Your first game back was in Nashville, but your first home game was special.
Look, I’m not a great hockey player. I’ll never make the Hall of Fame. But to be welcomed back like I was — amazing. I got an assist against San Jose, and the fans gave me an ovation when it was announced. Then I scored a goal, and I was floored by the reaction at the United Center. Overwhelming. I’ll take that to the grave with me.
I’ve been with first-class organizations. Toronto, then Philadelphia. Florida is in a rebuild, but a couple years ago we took New Jersey to double-overtime in Game 7 of the playoffs... But Chicago, this is the pinnacle. - Kris Versteeg
Why do fans treat you like a superstar?
I don’t know. There are so many great players here, you wonder whether you will be remembered as even just a good one. The people in Chicago love this team. Two Stanley Cups help, of course. But they are really attached to the players and the organization.
You’ve been widely quoted as saying players here are “insanely lucky” to be Blackhawks. Explain.
I’ve been with first-class organizations. Toronto, then Philadelphia. Florida is in a rebuild, but a couple years ago we took New Jersey to double-overtime in Game 7 of the playoffs, and the Devils went to the finals against Los Angeles. But Chicago, this is the pinnacle.
Did you see this revival coming when you first joined the Blackhawks?
I’ll tell you a story: In 2007, after being traded from Boston, I’m with the farm club in Rockford. Dave Bolland, Martin St. Pierre and I come to Chicago for a game. First game for Jonathan Toews. Scores on his first shot against San Jose. We sit in the stands. We have a section to ourselves in the 200 Level. I have my legs draped over a chair in front of me, same with the other two guys. Nobody in the United Center. Maybe 6,000. I’m thinking, “So this is the NHL?” With Toews and Patrick Kane as rookies, you could see a future. But if you had told me that fans would come back like they have, I’d have called you nuts. We just had a road game in Phoenix in November, right after I re-joined the team, and there were more Blackhawks fans there than there were at that United Center game in 2007.
When you returned, it was thought that you might help keep the locker room loose. How so?
I don’t think this group needs me to stay loose. We lost some characters from 2010, but there are new characters. Bryan Bickell is different. And Andrew Shaw… Well, he’s Andrew Shaw. I used to go back and forth with Dustin Byfuglien. But there’s still Tazer — Jonathan is serious, yeah, but he likes to have fun. I love to poke at him. He gets red in the face, looks down and shakes his head. You can have him on the ropes, but you have to hit the brakes sometimes. You don’t want to push him over the ropes.
You sang, or tried to sing, “Yes” at the 2010 Cup parade. Still rapping? Singing? Something in between?
I pick my spots in the room. Still trying to figure everybody out. I know the lyrics to hundreds of songs. Love country music, which is big back home in Alberta. Garth Brooks, George Strait. Also, electronica. I’ll sing in the car, loud. Wouldn’t want a camera in my car. That would be embarrassing. Brian Campbell used to tell me to quiet down in the room. Sometimes Brittany will tell me to shut up. So will my close friends. My voice? Bad.