ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — Kris Versteeg spent 11 seasons in the National Hockey League. He was part of two Stanley Cup Championship teams with the Chicago Blackhawks, but there was still something more that he wanted out of hockey before retiring.
Versteeg wanted to serve as a leader and mentor young players to help them try to reach their NHL goals. That’s why he agreed to come back to the Rockford IceHogs this season where his professional career began in 2007. At age 33 Versteeg is the IceHogs captain. He was recently sidelined with an injury for a few games but he returned to the action this past weekend.
Versteeg said Tuesday morning after practice that his plan of being a leader is playing out as well as he could have hoped so far. He says the younger guys approach him for advice and input quite often.
“Yea, it’s almost daily. I think at times I sit back at the end of the day and I realize that it’s happening more than I even know but it’s still good,” said Versteeg. “It’s fun to try to, I guess, give some information that maybe you see to the guys. At the same time hopefully take something from them.”
So what does Versteeg, with all his experience, realize now about the sport of hockey that perhaps he didn’t when he was a young player?
“You don’t realize that these guys are like literally killing each other to get a shot in the NHL. I don’t think I really realized that until I’d been on the bench sitting next to them. It kind of made me realize what maybe I went through to get there.”
“If you haven’t played pro sports and haven’t tried to get to that pinnacle level I don’t think you quite understand, but for me coming back and seeing these guys laying out and laying bodies on the line to get a chance and hitting and just the intensity and overall, I guess, assertiveness they’re taking it’s been an eye-opener for me that man these guys are fighting for their lives every day, and that’s something I’m going to remember. Maybe if I didn’t come back to the minors I would have maybe never noticed.”
Versteeg admits that at age 33 he doesn’t have a young body anymore and he has to pace himself a bit and rely more on his knowledge.
“Rely on your head because if I played the same way I played 12 years ago I probably would have fought two guys last game (last Sunday against the Chicago Wolves) and probably have been kicked out because of a couple cheap shots by their guys, but that’s just the way it is now. You’ve got to be a little smarter. You’ve got to realize the body ain’t what it once was. It’s a little frustrating because you want to do as much as you can physically.”
As much as Versteeg is enjoying helping out the young guys he says he’s not interested in becoming a coach when he retires from playing, unless, he says it’s his son’s youth hockey team.
Versteeg and the IceHogs will play back-to-back games against the Grand Rapids Griffins this Friday and Saturday. Friday’s game will be in Michigan. Saturday’s game will be in Rockford at the BMO Harris Bank Center.