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Up Close Podcast - Episode 1 - Kris Versteeg

In episode 1, Ryan Leslie sits down with Flames' forward Kris Versteeg, for an in-depth conversation about his journey to the NHL and the Calgary Flames.

by Ryan Leslie @ryanleslie73 /

Kris Versteeg knows how lucky he is to be back home. He sat down with me for a moment earlier this month to talk about on the road that led him to Calgary - a short drive from where he grew up in Southern Alberta.

First an agreement with a Swiss hockey club this offseason and then a professional tryout with the Edmonton Oilers, the whirlwind led him to sign with the Calgary Flames shortly thereafter.

After being swiped right out from under their noses, it seemed fitting Versteeg was in the lineup the next day against those very same Edmonton Oilers.

Always the renter and never the owner, maybe, just maybe, the Flames newest addition has found a home … at home.

The feisty Flames forward takes nothing for granted. He credits his family and the Lethbridge community where he grew up for getting him to where he is today.

He came from humble roots in Southern Alberta, and now that his NHL journey has come full circle, Versteeg feels he's in a place to return the kindness given to him while he charted his course to pro hockey.

"I look back, we never had anything, never had much, never had money. If it weren't for my grandparents at times buying skates, I never would've been able to play the game," Versteeg said.

He recalled when he signed his first pro contract those same grandparents cried tears of joy.

Oh sure, Versteeg admits he was "hell on wheels" growing up, but he never forgot where he came from and continues to find ways to give back, staying involved with local charities.

Versteeg even tried to buy his old junior hockey team, the Western Hockey League's Lethbridge Hurricanes.

"Lethbridge is a small community and needs people to help push the kids up. It's a community that needs help and hopefully, I can do that."
From the rinks of Lethbridge to hockey's biggest stage, Versteeg is now 30 years old with his eighth NHL team.

He has just about seen or done it all at the NHL level and the Flames are hoping his experience, championship pedigree, and that unique personality will rub off on his new club. We've all seen the YouTube clips of him rapping and singing at Stanley Cup parades, ball games and even friends' weddings.

But more importantly ... we've seen him hoist the Stanley Cup.

"You work 20-odd years, I was 23 at the time, you work that long to only have a high last two to three hours. Then it's almost washed away and you start over again," Versteeg said.

"That 2-3 hours after winning the Stanley Cup you feel immortal, because you did it with people you care about. You can't even put it into words."

When I caught up with Kris Versteeg to talk about hockey and growing up, he was only too happy to share some stories.

Still, he had to cut our conversation short as he was on his way to the airport to pick up his wife and two sons who were finally meeting him…at home.

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