Versteeg explains why he asked for release from Rockford IceHogs
When Kris Versteeg decided to sign a one-year deal with the Rockford IceHogs last April it was because he wanted to help the Blackhawks develop their up-and-coming young players.
After a rough year overseas in which he dealt with a painful shingles rash, Versteeg couldn't wait to come back to the organization where it all started for him way back on November 22, 2007.
But that all came to an end Sunday.
Realizing that the physical, punishing style of the AHL can be a tough place for a 33-year-old veteran, Versteeg asked for -- and was granted -- his release from the IceHogs.
The turning point came after Versteeg reinjured his abductor against the Chicago Wolves on October 18. He sat out for three weeks, came back and played two more games on November 8 and 10, then decided enough was enough.
"I felt like it was a disservice to the kids if I couldn't bring everything I had every night, especially if kids are sitting out and they've worked their whole lives to make the NHL," Versteeg said in a phone interview Sunday morning. "If I'm in their spot and I'm not bringing everything I can, then I didn't feel it was right."
Another reason Versteeg made this decision was his realization that the way the game is played in the minors is a whole lot different from it is in the NHL. The father of three kids -- who are all 4 or younger -- felt his long-term health was at risk playing in a league where big, nasty hits are doled out on a nightly basis.
"It's not even close, the physicality compared to the NHL," said Versteeg, who was the IceHogs captain. "It is much, much more physical down here. Kids are fighting for their lives to get called to the NHL.
"You know, I was in that spot at one time a long time ago. I remember scratching and clawing and doing whatever it took to get there. I started to look at the schedule and the games started to compact more and more.
"I just felt it didn't make sense for me to do that long-term."
Versteeg was a huge part of the Blackhawks' resurgence in 2008-10, scoring a combined 42 goals in those seasons and adding 6 goals and 8 assists during the 2010 Stanley Cup title run. After spending the next three-plus seasons in Philadelphia and Florida, Versteeg returned via trade for most of the 2013-14 season and helped the Hawks claim another Cup in 2015.
"Awesome guy in the locker room, great guy to hang out with," Patrick Kane said. "Scored some huge goals for us in the playoffs and had a lot of fun playing with him. …
"Obviously very skilled. (He) created a lot of depth for (us) where he could play up and down the lineup -- first line to the third line -- and be an effective player. Had a great career."
Versteeg had a difficult time explaining what the Hawks have meant to him, his voice shaking near the end of this response:
"I could really go on forever about this question. I get emotional thinking about it," he said. "I grew up with a family that worked so hard to put food on the table and did everything I could to play hockey.
"I look at what the Blackhawks have done for me for over a decade -- winning Stanley Cups, making me financially comfortable and always being there for me when I needed them -- I'm really at a loss for words about what they've really meant to me."
As for the future, Versteeg hopes to go into broadcasting.
But his hockey career may have a few more games in it as he hopes to skate with his younger brother in the Spengler Cup, an annual tournament held in Davos, Switzerland that features six countries. It runs from December 26-31.
"If there's an opportunity to play with him, I might as well do it," Versteeg said. "It seems like it's becoming an option, so it'll hopefully all work out.
"It would be a huge honor to represent Canada in the Spengler Cup."