|Kris Versteeg and Tyler Bozak laugh at Leafs practice. (Craig Robertson/QMI Agency)
TORONTO - In a summer of Stanley Cup celebrations, one story stuck with Kris Versteeg to remind him how fortunate he is to have a ring.
It was during one of the many team functions to mark Chicago’s first title in 49 years with several former Hawks players invited. They included forward Cliff Koroll, who had been on two “close call” teams that had made the final in 1971 and ’73.
Koroll told the young Hawks that his team thought they had it made in 1971, winning Game 5 by a 2-0 count at the Stadium to take a 3-2 series lead. They didn’t clinch in Montreal, despite the sideshow of the French-language press hounding coach Al MacNeil for cutting down Henri Richard’s ice time, meaning Chicago had to win Game 7 at home where the Hawks had not lost in the series.
“He said Chicago had a 2-0 lead and they could almost taste the champagne,” Versteeg said in the Leafs room on Thursday morning. “But Montreal came back and won it (on tying and winning goals by Richard). He says he still wakes up in the middle of the night, thinking about that. And it really depresses him.”
When Versteeg had his day with the Cup, he took it home to Lethbridge, Alta.
“I did a barbecue with the family and a barbecue with the neighbours,” Versteeg said. “We had a little road hockey game on my mom’s old street where we used to play. The main thing was the public got to be involved and we raised $15,000 for KidSport, which gives underpriviledged children the proper hockey equipment, which I matched.”
Versteeg looks forward to the day when the Leafs might have the opportunity to have such an unique Canadian moment. He remembers that the Hawks weren’t in great shape a few years ago, playing to a half-filled building.
“You have to overcome a lot,” agreed Versteeg of propping up the 29th place Leafs. “But we’re a team that has to take baby steps. Sometimes you have to walk before you run. But if we play hard, have fun and do our thing, we might be able to get (to playoffs).”