Along with his columns, this season James Duthie will be talking hockey (and other things) with the biggest stars, newsmakers, and characters in the game. This week, Toronto Maple Leafs forward and part-time rapper Kris Versteeg.
James Duthie: You were still celebrating your Stanley Cup victory on June 30th when you were traded to Toronto. How did you find out?
Kris Versteeg: I had a couple of steaks on the barbecue. We were actually watching you guys on the panel talking about trades, and we were kind of joking about it. Then Brent Sopel, who is basically the agent for everyone - he tells everyone they got traded - sent me a text message saying, "Good luck in T.O." I didn't even know. I called Colin Fraser and he said Sopel had told him he'd been traded, too. So if you ever need a new Insider, get Brent Sopel.
JD: You seemed to take it very well for a guy going from the Stanley Cup champion to the 29th place team in the NHL.
KV: When I found it was Toronto, I was pretty darn happy. It's a team facing the same challenges we were facing in Chicago three years ago. Plus, it's an amazing hockey market. This is the Yankees of hockey, maybe the biggest sports organization in the world, so I was excited.
JD: You went from 15 minutes a game average ice time to over 21 so far this season. Are you tired yet?
KV: (laughs) No, not a bit. I guess "Q" (Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville) was just saving me for this season. I should give him a call and thank him.
JD: You scored 22 and 20 goals your first two seasons, respectively. With the added ice time and playing on the top line, how many can you score this year?
KV: I have no idea. I take them as they come. I'll leave that to you guys.
JD: Okay then, how many can Phil Kessel score?
KV: I think he can score 50. The puck just always ends up on his stick, and he knows where to put it when it ends up there.
JD: Who is the one player on the Leafs who might surprise people?
KV: (Nikolai) Kulemin. He's got such a great set of hands, he's one of the fastest players I've ever seen, and he's got a great hockey sense. If he puts it all together, he will be scary.
JD: Who is the dirtiest player in the NHL?
KV: Scott Hartnell. In the Cup final, Game 3 (video), I was skating down the ice and he clotheslined me. But he's got skill so he can back it up.
JD: Did it feel strange going to the ring ceremony in Chicago when you were no longer on the team?
KV: It did feel a little weird. It was just me and Adam Burish who came back. They were all talking about getting ready to defend their Cup, and they were giving their whole "rah rah" speech, and me and Burish were just sitting in the background laughing, saying, "Yeah, let's get em!" I got Duncan (Keith) going on what I thought about how our two teams would do. Just trying to get under his skin right away.
JD: You were on the bench when Kane scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal (video). Did you know it was in?
KV: No. When he took the shot, I heard a funny noise. I didn't know if it was a stick that broke or what, but I was actually looking up into the netting above the glass, thinking the puck went up there, and waiting to see if it was going to drop back onto the ice. Then I saw Boynton in the corner trying to celebrate with Kane, and I thought, "Are they joking?" So I just stepped on the ice and threw my gloves in the air. I had no idea if we'd actually won or not. I was so nervous that it wasn't in. My heart was pounding. I was thinking in those first few seconds, "If we end up somehow losing and I chucked my gloves off like I won the Stanley Cup, I am gonna kill Patrick Kane."
JD: What was the craziest part of the victory celebration that you can repeat on a family site like tsn.ca?
KV: There are definitely a couple I can't repeat, but the night before the parade, we were on a bus, just going from restaurant to restaurant, bar to bar, and everywhere we got off, there were literally thousands of people in the street. It was insanity. We brought the Cup out on State and Division, where the college kids hang out, and you could not move the Cup for a two-block radius, there were so many people. We couldn't even get it back to the bus. That's when the Cup keeper was the most scared the Cup might not make it back. It's funny, when everyone is touching it, you kind of feel like it is your own child and you are trying to protect it.
JD: I went on YouTube this morning to watch your rap at the Cup parade again, and I also found you singing a Fergie song (video), doing "Save a Horse" (video) with Patrick Kane on stage, and doing karaoke with Cristobal Huet. You are quite a...uhh...versatile performer.
KV: (laughs) Yeah, everyone has a camera phone these days. I like to bust out any genre. I can be a country singer, a hip hop artist...I don't have a great voice, it's not very graceful, but I'll do them all.
JD: What's your go-to tune right now?
KV: Eminem, "Love the Way You Lie". (video) I can bust that out.
JD: The Eminem part or the Rihanna part?
KV: (Laughs) The Rihanna part. Definitely.
JD: Have you tried out your talents on Leafs teammates yet?
KV: I've done a few songs, but Tyler Bozak has Bieber Fever. He just sings Justin Bieber all day, and he's louder than me so he drowns me out.
JD: He'll appreciate that. When did you find out they misspelled your name on the Stanley Cup?
KV: I was called by Mike Bolt, one of the Cup carriers. He apologized right away. He had the cup in Toronto and told me to come over to his house and look at it. I got to raise the cup with the misspelled name, and they fixed it a couple of days later. You can still tell a little bit that it was changed. Hey, I'm probably never going to go down in the history books, so if that's a way of being remembered, I'll take it.
JD: You've had some good nicknames. "Verbeauty", "Verstud"...but the one I'm most intrigued with, I don't think I can even say. Rhymes with witch. How did you get that handle?
KV: It was our Bantam AAA year, and the manager on our team nicknamed me that because I'm always complaining. So we were losing 1-0 one game and I was playing pretty bad and my Grandma got frustrated at me in the stands. She's usually a very quiet, soft-spoken lady, but sometimes when I'm not working hard, she gets mad. So all of a sudden she starts yelling, "Skate, b****, skate! My Mom had to calm her down and say, "Grandma, you can't yell that when there are hundreds of people in the stands."
JD: That may be best Hockey Grandma story I've ever heard. The most lopsided traded in NHL history: 1967; Boston gets Esposito, Hodge and Stanfield from Chicago for Pit Martin, Jack Norris and Gilles Marotte. Did Kris Versteeg for Brandon Bochenski even the score for the Hawks?
KV: (laughs) Not even close. Bochenski is a good player. The most lopsided trade Chicago's way is the Patrick Sharp-Matt Ellison one.
JD: You played a key role in ending Chicago's 49-year drought. Now you are in Toronto, where it's been 43 years. Maybe this is your calling. Maybe you're the drought breaker?
KV: I'm sure hoping I can be the drought-breaker. But lots of work ahead. Baby steps.
James Duthie's new book of columns, "The Day I Almost Killed Two Gretzkys (And other off-the-wall stories about sports...and life)", is now available. You can order your autographed copy here in the TSN Shop.