CHICAGO -- Kris Versteeg's family didn't like to spend much on what they considered frivolous items and that included Calgary Flames' tickets.
So despite being just a 90-minute drive from the Saddledome in Lethbridge, Versteeg never saw the Flames play live until he was a teenager and even then only twice. The price became irrelevent after the 22-year-old made it big with the Blackhawks and began lighting up the NHL as the second-highest rookie scorer. Now it's going to be serious coin for playoff tickets when Chicago goes back next week for Games 3 and 4.
"It's fair to say some families can't dig deep in their wallets for hockey games," Versteeg said yesterday as the Hawks tuned up for Game 1 this evening at the United Center. "We did when we could and it made it that much more special when I could go. I was caught up in the way the game was played live and seeing guys such as (Canucks') Markus Naslund."
Versteeg's mother, Marilin, is a teacher and his dad, Roy, is a farm equipment salesman. They did see him play at the Saddledome when visiting with the WHL Lethbridge Hurricanes and Red Deer Rebels, when the younger Versteeg sometimes would peek down the hall at the Flames' dressing room.
"I watched on TV and had a Flames connection with Rich and Ron Sutter, helping out as an instructor at their hockey school," Versteeg said.
He was drafted by the Boston Bruins in 2004, but came to Chicago in a trade for Brandon Bochenski. In a year when No. 1 Steve Stamkos was expected to be the outstanding freshman scorer, Versteeg had 22 goals, 10 on special teams, finishing second to Anaheim's Bobby Ryan with 53 points.
This series will pit the Hawks' youth against the Flames' veterans. But the Hawks' ranks include Cup winners Nikolai Khabibulin (Tampa Bay), Andrew Ladd (Carolina) and Sammy Pahlsson (Anaheim). Pahlsson appreciates another chance to carry the trophy back to Sweden for a day.
EXPERIENCE IS GOOD
"I played seven years and didn't win a Cup and I know a lot of players play 15 years and don't get past the second round," Pahlsson said. "You don't get many chances. If you have a good team, you have to take it. Experience is good, but we have a young team that's really excited and that might help, too."