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Game No. 500 A Special Milestone for Versteeg

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes
At 29 years, six months and 25 days old, Kris Versteeg is preparing to play his 500th career game in the National Hockey League.

It’s a commendable and celebrated games-played milestone that Versteeg knew was approaching, and he’ll reach it when the Carolina Hurricanes face off with the Dallas Stars in the first game a four-game road trip.

“It’s exciting. It’s something I never truly thought would ever happen,” he said Monday in Raleigh. “I didn’t even know if I’d ever get one game, so you would have asked me when I was 19 years old, I would have told you that you were crazy.”

Playing for five different teams, including two separate stints with the Chicago Blackhawks, Versteeg has assembled an impressive resume between game No. 1 and game No. 499, including four 20-goal seasons, 291 points (119g, 172a) and two Stanley Cup Championships.

“To be able to accomplish the things I have is really exciting,” he said. “I’ve been a part of a lot of really great organizations and around a lot of great people and players.”

Versteeg, as many do, recalls his first NHL game in vivid detail. It happened with the Chicago Blackhawks just over eight years ago on Nov. 22, 2007, in Calgary, a couple hours outside his hometown of Lethbridge.

“It was basically a home game, and I got to play my first ever game against the team I grew up watching,” he said. “The first faceoff I lined up against Jarome Iginla, a guy I grew up watching, as well.”

Interestingly enough, Versteeg’s NHL debut also marked a games-played milestone for Iginla, who skated in his 800th career game.

The Blackhawks only put 16 shots on the Flames’ Miikka Kiprusoff but emerged victorious in a low-scoring 2-1 affair. Versteeg registered one of his team’s shots and added two hits in 15:42 of ice time.

“It was a pretty exciting game,” Versteeg said. “Emotions were running high. I had a lot of old coaches, and especially my friends and family there.”

Versteeg played in two more games with Chicago before being reassigned to the Rockford IceHogs of the American League, where he spent the majority of the 2007-08 season.

“I remember I was star-struck and couldn’t believe I was allowed to be on the ice with these guys, playing on a line with Robert Lang,” Versteeg said of his first NHL games. “It was an eye-opener at how fast, big, skilled and strong they were. It was just remarkable. I remember the first few games went really fast.”

He was recalled to Chicago a few more times that year, skating in 13 total games, and he became a full-time NHL player the following season.

“The game slowed down, and I could play my game,” he said. “I realized that if you want to be in the NHL, you can’t be star struck. You’ve got to look at it a different way.”

Not only has Versteeg played in what will soon be 500 regular-season games; he’s also played over a regular season’s worth of postseason games – 84 in total over six separate trips to the playoffs in seven seasons. Twice Versteeg has won hockey’s ultimate prize, in 2009-10 and in 2014-15, both with Chicago.

“Those [games] should count for two (played),” Versteeg joked. “Your body and the intensity that has to go into those is pretty remarkable. You see some guys that play their whole careers and don’t get the chance to play in the playoffs. For myself to be fortunate enough to play on some good teams, be able to win and play on hockey’s biggest stage is always exciting. It’s something where I always feel I’ve played my best.”

Games-played milestones are traditionally marked off every 100 matches, and game No. 500 certainly carries some heft. Postseason success aside, for Versteeg, the simple fact of competing in 500 games in the best hockey league in the world is meaningful in itself.

“It’s crazy,” Versteeg said, looking back on his career. “It’s pretty special, especially in today’s game.”

Michael Smith
MICHAEL SMITH is the Web Producer for the Carolina Hurricanes.

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