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Younger Versteeg hopes for shot with Hawks

by Brian Hedger /
CHICAGO – Part of Kris Versteeg's weekend with the Stanley Cup in his Canadian hometown of Lethbridge, Alberta, included a street hockey game in which the former Chicago Blackhawk and the friends he grew up with played for the right to hoist the actual trophy – which sat on the porch of Versteeg's boyhood home.

It looked like a scene from "Wayne's World," only the game didn't have to be halted for oncoming traffic thanks to police barricades. There was one net, one goalie and two teams battling it out street hockey style for the right to kiss the Cup.

Versteeg's team lost to a team led by a friend who wore a Jonathan Toews jersey. All but one of the players donned Hawks sweaters – even a police dog. Yet, there was one Toronto Maple Leafs jersey among the bunch and it was worn by a Versteeg – Mitch Versteeg, Kris' younger brother.

He played goalie and wore the blue and white that Kris will wear next season after the Hawks traded him in a salary-cap crunch move.

"It was fun," said the younger Versteeg, a 6-2, 200-pound defenseman who is now taking part in this weekend's Blackhawks developmental prospects camp as a free agent invite. "I won and lost."

The younger Versteeg's voice sounds an awful lot like his brother, but the comparisons go separate ways from there. Mitch is a little bigger and a little less of a wild card – on and off the ice. He's not likely to break out into a rap song in public anytime soon, like his brother did in front of roughly 2 million people at the Hawks victory parade.

"I'm not quite as out there as him," Mitch said. "I kind of keep more to myself and I'm not too much out there. He's a laugh every day. He's a funny guy and has a great personality."

They also play different positions with different styles.

"We're on opposite ends of the spectrum in how we play," Mitch said, following the first day of scrimmages and drills. "I try to keep my game simple and physical and just try to compete on every shift."

That much he proved during the second scrimmage. Versteeg launched 6-2, 201-pound Andy Bohmbach into the bench area with a huge check that drew cheers among fans in attendance. Now, Versteeg hopes to keep opening eyes, especially with the Hawks' blue-line depth being relatively thin.

Versteeg played 63 games last season with Kalamazoo of the ECHL, scoring five goals with 15 assists and logging 81 penalty minutes.

"It's a little weird (being here), but there's only one thing on my mind – and that's trying to get a spot on an NHL team," Mitch said. "That's what I'm here to do."

If he does, could we someday see one Versteeg blasting another into the bench? Count on it.

"We've never played against each other," Mitch said. "If the opportunity ever comes up, I'm sure I'll be gunning for him."

As for his decision to wear that Maple Leafs jersey during the street hockey game?

"We ran out of Blackhawks ones," he said. "That was the only one we had around."

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