Jim Vandermeer received a trip back home for his birthday.
The defenceman, a Caroline, Alta., native, was traded to the Calgary Flames on Wednesday, a day before his 28th birthday. On Friday, a day after that birthday, the tough, good-in-all situations defenceman was lining up with a familiar face in Dion Phaneuf on the Flames blueline against the Detroit Red Wings.
The pair were groomed for the National Hockey League by Brent Sutter, then the coach and owner of the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL. Phaneuf played a few games as a 15-year-old midget call-up in Red Deer while Vandermeer was providing veteran leadership on a team that won the Memorial Cup in 2001, Vandermeer's final year in junior hockey.
"Yeah, he was pretty good and it looks like he turned out okay," smiled Vandermeer, noting the pair have teamed up for a couple of rounds of golf over the years. There were other familiar faces, too. Flames assistant coach Wayne Fleming was a coach in Philadelphia when Vandermeer broke into the league and Vandermeer played with Flames d-man Adrian Aucoin while in Chicago last season.
The pair were talking it up plenty during practice to make the quick adjustment to playing together against the Wings.
"Whether you have been here two days or two years, talking on the ice is always good," said Vandermeer.
The trade to Calgary marked the second move of the season for Vandermeer. He began the season in Chicago but was traded back to the team that signed him as a free agent in 2000. He had been playing on the top pairing in Philadelphia, logging upwards of 20 minutes a game prior to the trade.
"It was a bit of a shock but that's the way it goes sometimes," said Vandermeer. "It's tough but you are here to play hockey no matter where you are."
Coming back to Alberta, where he is well-known in hockey circles and has plenty of friends and family, certainly doesn't hurt. "It's great to be back in Alberta. It's pretty exciting," said Vandermeer.
"He will help us tremendously," said Aucoin. "He's an underrated player. He is a tough player but what people don't realize how smart he is with the puck."
Not a flashy player by any means -- Vandermeer entered the contest with 15 points and 71 penalty minutes this season and, in 246 NHL games, has 17 goals, 66 points and 350 penalty minutes.
He was steady in his first appearance as a Flame, although he did get caught flat-footed at the Detroit blueline in the second period, giving Pavel Datsyuk a chance to dangle past him on a rush. (Then again, there are plenty of defencemen who have been dangled by Datsyuk, right?).
Vandermeer's stats book, at the end of the evening, read like this: 28 shifts for 19:34 of ice time, two shots and a even ranking. He played about 1:40 of power play time and three minutes on the button on the penalty-kill.
Head coach Mike Keenan was happy to add another defenceman into the mix -- the Flames now have eight healthy d-men heading into the final stretch drive.
"You need eight defencemen to go down the stretch and into the playoffs," said Keenan. "We are essentially in the playoff stretch. This is a good acquisition. He can play in all situations. He adds minutes in every area for us."
Calgary general manager Darryl Sutter summed up the acquisition simply: "Another young defenceman," said the GM, who will no doubt try and re-sign Vandermeer prior to July 1 when he is slated to become an unrestricted free agent.
The concept for Vandermeer is to keep his game simple.
"I just have to got out, play physical and move the puck and I shouldn't have too much to worry about," said Vandermeer.