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After a terrific season with the Flames, the winger would love to stay with the organization

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

The nomadic experience of a professional athlete almost always involves change. Addresses, phone numbers, countries, friendships, work places, routines.

So as the years roll on, familiar faces, familiar places, come to carry a particular, impossible-to-replicate resonance.

"Being at home,'' acknowledged Kris Versteeg on garbage-bag Friday down at the Scotiabank Saddledome, "has been amazing.

"I can't properly put into words how much I've enjoyed this season.

"It's been so special.

"Just having everyone around - family, friends - has made me super comfortable. My kids being consistently around their grandparents, you can't put a value on that.

"It's made my, our, living situation so much better. I've been away for so long, in other cities, and I think everyone wonders what it'd be like to be able to play in his own backyard.

"The other places I've been through my career have all been great experiences.

"But you only have one home, right?

"So from a personal standpoint, I could not have asked for more.

"And this team? Like a band of brothers. Just fantastic."

When the Calgary Flames signed the 30-year-old double Stanley Cup winner to a one-year deal at $950,000, it seemed a stop-gap move designed to add more veteran savvy to a young group.

Versteeg, remember, arrived here after attending training camp with the Edmonton Oilers on a professional tryout.

No one could've predicted the degree of impact he'd bring to the Flames.

He'd split last season between Carolina and L.A., and seemed destined to spend this winter toiling in Bern, Switzerland.

"If I'm sitting in Switzerland in September,'' Versteeg said with a wink Friday, "my agent's getting fired."

His stock has certainly taken a big bump over the past six months. Helping revitalize a moribund powerplay while chipping in with 15 goals and 37 points in 62 games is what's known in layman's terms as 'bang for the buck'.

"Obviously, I loved my time here. I consider it a great success, all in all, especially coming from the whirlwind start to the season.

"Obviously it's long season and not every year's going to go the way you want. I think I've been able to stay relatively consistent.

"I was given a great opportunity, especially coming back from my injury in November, putting me on the powerplay, showing a lot of confidence in me, giving me a lot of minutes.

"I'm definitely proud of it.

"Last year was my first taste of free agency and you don't know what you're going through. This year you kinda process everything differently. This league can kick you out pretty quickly. You've gotta really appreciate everything and not take anything for granted.

"Mentally, some days it's tough come to the rink. This year it's been something special. The coaches made it a great environment to be yourself.

"In know in Chicago, they let your personalities really blossom and they have a lot of success. That's kinda like here.

"So it made it easy to come to the rink every day and be yourself. I think that helps you in the room and on the ice.

"I loved it. It was a lot of fun."

And Versteeg has been a lot of fun, too, with an offbeat sense of humour.

When the conversation veered off topic to a potential new arena, his response was typical Versteeg-ian.

"Well, first off let's fix McLeod and 12th,'' he quipped. "That light … it's not long enough. Causes a lot of traffic problems.

"But a new arena would nice. Obviously they need one. That's a matter I'm not involved in. But it'd be nice for the city."

Many variable enter into whether or not Versteeg returns in September. But as a person and a player, the Flames couldn't have asked for more.

"We were laughing today,'' recalled GM Brad Treliving. "We sign him, he's in Edmonton. He didn't even come here, he met us at the Westin - 'Hey, here's your team!'

"He had no training camp, he's meeting his teammates in warm-up" - at Rogers Place for the opener - "but down the stretch and into the playoffs, after he got over that injury, he had real impact on the team.

"Not only that, he's got a real interesting personality. You need a little noise, a little snap every now and again. He's got that.

"We had a good talk. We're going to stay in touch here and see where it goes."

Nearing 31, Calgary marks Versteeg's seventh NHL port-o-call. He'd like nothing more than to make it his last.

"Oh, I'd love to be back,'' he acknowledged. "You don't want to sell yourself short but, as I said before, you also want to be happy.

"You always look at points and the other guys around the league, what they do relative to you.

"As you get older, though, your situation, your state of mind, becomes more and more important.

"So there's a fine line between being happy and selling yourself short. I guess you've got to try and find the middle of that line.

"That's what I'm hoping to do.

"Our biggest goal is to try and remain a Calgary Flame."

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