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Forward knows scary incident during loss to Carolina could have ended much worse

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

They grow 'em tough as old shoe leather on Larkspur Road N. in Lethbridge.

Bruised knee. Cracked helmet. Bundled off the ice by concerned teammates, in obvious discomfort, putting no weight on his right leg.

Then a quick detour to the dressing room to determine possible damage.

A green light and then sailing right back into the fray.

"Oh, the knee worried me more,'' confessed Kris Versteeg, the morning after absorbing a frightening double-dose of Jeff Skinner vulcanized rubber in the first period of the Flames' 2-1 home loss to Carolina on Thursday.

 "I've had surgery in those areas before.

"Then you get hit there … a lot of pain and panic sets in.

"You immediately think 'Oh, no …'"

The alarming sequence started from a lost face-off in the Flames' zone. After a bit of back-and-forth passing interplay by the 'Canes, Skinner wound up and cranked a shot off the largely-unprotected area on the inside of Versteeg's right knee, dropping him to the ice.

In pain and clutching the knee, but sensing continuing danger, Versteeg quickly curled up in a fetal position to try and protect himself.

"When I saw the play was going back up top, I did my best to cover my neck and all of a sudden another shot's rifled off my head.

"I'm thinking 'Oh, f-bomb. This is coming in.' Just tried to brace, grab whatever I could.

"I've never had anything like that happen before.

"Another inch or two inward and it probably would've knocked me unconscious.

"It still hurt but it hit me more in the back of the head and up, instead of near the temple area. Thank God. I was just praying it wouldn't me in the neck, or …

"The helmet's cracked and dented. But everything's OK."

From the bench, surveying the sequence, Mark Giordano felt sick.

"I was really worried about him,'' admitted the Flames' captain. "I knew (the second shot) had hit him in the head. But I didn't know where. I was worried that it had hit him in the side of the jaw or in the face.

"In that situation, if you look back now, it was best that he had his hand up over his face. His helmet saved him. No doubt about that."

With Versteeg already horizontal and in obvious distress his helmet absorbed the full impact of Skinner's low, follow-up blast.

"You get that the refs had full control but he's right in that lane there,'' said Giordano. "It was tough to watch. Thank God everything's okay. Whenever you see someone get hit in the head with a shot …

"Scary, for sure."

When Versteeg was helped from the ice putting no weight on his leg, the damage certainly seemed severe. In short order, though, after undergoing the necessary tests, and to the astonishment of everyone witness to the incident, he returned to the Flames' bench.

"I got in the room, went through protocols and x-rays. A lot of things are involved. I was just happy I could test (the knee) after 10-15 minutes, figure out if you'll be able to get out there, see if you can stand on it. You go through the protocols and if you're fine to go, you want to play."

In the end, as good an outcome as possible, under the circumstances.

Still, Versteeg understands how fortunate he was.

"Do I feel lucky? Yeah. Considering what could've happened."

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