SUN Hockey Pool

Flames D-man roles with punches

STEVE MACFARLANE

, Last Updated: 10:17 AM ET

He's far from a heavyweight.

He was drafted as a defenceman.

But neither of those facts stop Jim Vandermeer from scrapping some of the NHL's biggest men, or lining up on either wing when Calgary Flames head coach Mike Keenan is looking for a little more size up front.

Size is in the eye of the beholder, though.

At 6-ft.-1, 208 lb., Vandermeer isn't exactly a big man.

"No, I know that," Vandermeer agreed with a laugh less than an hour after he went toe-to-toe with Minnesota Wild pugilist Chris Simon.

Simon stands more than two inches taller than Vandermeer and weighs in at about 232 lb.

You can guess what happened, although the actual result was less punishing than most predictions would have it. Absorbing straight lefts, many of which connected around his right eye, Vandermeer never stopped throwing punches of his own -- and quite a few of those smacked Simon, too.

Credit growing up with five other boys in the Vandermeer household for his ability to take a hit.

With scraps against guys like Krzysztof Oliwa (6-ft.-5, 245), Andrew Peters (6-ft.-4, 247), Eric Godard (6-ft.-4, 216) and Derek Boogaard (6-ft.-7, 258) also on his resume, both in the NHL and AHL, there's definitely no fear when it comes to picking opponents.

But Simon? The guy is not just tough. He's unpredictable.

"He is a big boy," said Vandermeer. "It's just one of those situations. Godsy (Godard) got in a fight, and Mike felt we needed a little bit more. That's what I'm here for."

He'd never really fought until junior, where he toiled for the Red Deer Rebels.

"My first year junior, I was a forward," said Vandermeer, adding that's where he developed his boxing skills. "I was a fourth-line guy, an energy type of player. That was one of the ways I was going to stick around.

"That year, a bunch of guys got hurt. I played D a little growing up. Rather than calling up some midget player, I said, 'I'll go back and play D, I can play the handful of shifts that you want.'

"They figured I was a better d-man than a forward. It worked out."

His appearance on the wing Saturday night worked out, too, and even earned him an assist on Iginla's first goal.


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