Vandermeer 'up front' on new role

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:23 AM ET

Two months is a long time to wait.

Especially when you're a child, or a child at heart, as Jim Vandermeer showed.

"I almost feel like a kid again, excited for the first game," said the beaming Calgary Flames defenceman after yesterday's morning skate.

With Todd Bertuzzi's wonky hip flexor not quite good enough to get the OK from the medical staff -- and no junior-aged highly touted prospects in town en route from the world junior championships to a WHL team -- Vandermeer finally returned to action last night against the St. Louis Blues.

Normally a defenceman, he skated at forward in his first tilt since being sent to the injured list after suffering a broken ankle in early November. It wasn't all that long ago Vandermeer practised with the team for the first time but felt he was still a few weeks away.

"About a week ago, I thought it would be a lot longer," admitted Vandermeer, who sat out 25 games. "Within the last week, everything came together and it hasn't been hurting at all."

Bertuzzi missed a second straight game, but did partake in the morning skate. He also was on the ice early with other injured players.

"He is trying to be ready but I think the medical staff will suggest he wait another day," head coach Mike Keenan said.

So, the Flames turned to Vandermeer, who has played a few games at forward during his NHL career.

"They like to play," Keenan said. "They're athletes and unfortunately he took a shot to the foot, it broke his ankle and he's had a long recovery.

"As hard as they work in the gym and as much time as they put into the recovery and rehab, they get anxious at this point.

"They get excited and that helps the hockey club. He'll bring energy in the room, even before the game, and his teammates will be excited about having him back in uniform with them."

Vandermeer's struggles began in the warm-up for Calgary's Nov. 6 match against the Nashville Predators. He was hit in the ankle by teammate Dion Phaneuf, but figured it was just a bruise.

He played that game and another, but midway through a third contest -- in Chicago -- the pain became too unbearable and he went for more x-rays.

"When I played the two games, I didn't feel like it did when I felt the need to get it checked out," he said. "It was sore, but it wasn't really bad. In Chicago, I don't know if the bone shifted or what, but it really felt it was broken.

"The x-ray we did here, you could tell it was a significant break and after re-evaluating, we knew it would be a little longer than we originally thought."

At the time of the injury, the Flames were floundering near .500.

Shortly after, they turned their fortunes around and have since grabbed a stranglehold on the Northwest Division lead.

Unfortunately for Vandermeer, he hasn't been able to join in the fun.

"It's always frustrating sitting and watching, but the good thing is the team's doing well," he said. "I broke my other leg a couple of years ago with Chicago and the team was losing.

"It's a lot worse when the team is losing.

"The team's playing great. I just can't wait to join them."


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