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Florida Contingent Of Ex-Hawks Set To Face Them

Thursday, 11.03.2011 / 3:16 PM / Features
By Alain Poupart  - NHL.com Correspondent
By Alain Poupart | NHL.com correspondent

SUNRISE, Fla.
-- Brian Campbell and Kris Versteeg did their best Thursday morning to talk about Thursday night's game against Chicago as just another game.

Clearly, it's not.

Campbell and Versteeg both were important parts of the Blackhawks' 2010 Stanley Cup title team, and they'll be facing their former teammates for the first time as members of the Florida Panthers.

"It's always good, it's a game that you kind of see and look at," Campbell said after Thursday's morning skate. "Obviously it's a big game, but there's a lot at stake for any team in every game. It'll be fun, some good memories and some good guys over there."

Campbell was traded to the Panthers in the offseason in exchange for forward Rostislav Olesz.

Versteeg, meanwhile, has been traded three times since helping the Hawks win the Cup. He was sent to Toronto last offseason, shipped to Philadelphia in February and then sent to the Panthers this summer.

He didn't get to face the Blackhawks last season because Toronto played Chicago after Versteeg was traded to Philly, and the Flyers already had played the Blackhawks.

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"It's going to be nice to see those guys," Versteeg said, "but mainly it's just about getting the two points tonight."

In addition to Campbell and Versteeg, the Panthers' roster includes two other former Chicago players -- forwards Tomas Kopecky and Jack Skille.

Kopecky was a regular skater on the Hawks' title team, but Skille played only six games that season and didn't appear in the playoffs. The Panthers acquired Kopecky's rights from the Hawks this summer before re-signing him to a new contract.

Only nine players remain from Chicago's title team -- Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews, Bryan Bickell, Dave Bolland, Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane -- so facing former teammates is nothing new for this year's Hawks, who are off to an impressive 7-2-2 start.

"Similar situation, just a different team," Sharp said. "You know that there's going to be motivation on their side, ours as well. We want to continue what we have going here. They have good players that used to play for our team on their side, so we've got to be aware of them out there and really just once the game starts it's business as usual."

While the players on both teams understand the business side of the game and the inevitability of trades, Versteeg doesn't hide the fact he was sad to see the Blackhawks broken apart after their Stanley Cup parade.

"It's sad that none of us were together after we won," said Versteeg, who saw a lot of his former teammates this summer at the wedding of Andrew Ladd, another member of that team now playing for the Winnipeg Jets. "It was tough on everybody because we wanted to talk about the time we went through and obviously no one was there to do it. There were about 10 guys raising that banner over there. It was really sad on our part. It was nice to see those guys this summer."

Versteeg's new team has gotten off to a 6-4-1 start, Florida's best October mark since 2005-06. And the Chicago connection has played a major role.

Campbell and Versteeg are tied for the team lead with 11 points, with Campbell tied for second in the league with 11 assists. Kopecky, meanwhile, has 1 goal and 5 assists.

More importantly, the former Hawks have brought a winning attitude to the locker room.

"To last that long once the playoffs start, you get through a couple of series and, boy you're only halfway there," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "For them to go the distance, it just adds character to your team. That's what we want as part of our make-up is guys that know what it takes to win, and not only do they know personally, but they are more than willing to share that with teammates and to be example setters. Everything we've asked of them, they've certainly provided that kind of leadership and that kind of play."

There's no question Campbell, Versteeg, Kopecky and Skille will want to be at their best facing their former teammates. Versteeg said he was particularly looking forward to playing against Kane and Toews.

"I've never played against them, but I look forward to playing against them," Versteeg said. "They're special players, but I look forward to being on the other team now and playing against them and seeing the other aspect of what they bring to a game."

Kane is looking forward to the on-ice reunion as well.

"They're great guys," he said. "You bond with them a lot from the past couple of seasons. You wish them all the best, but at the same time you've still got to get down to business and try to win a game for our team. It'll be fun out there. I'm sure there'll be some laughs. It's still the NHL, though, you've still got to play against them."

Author: Alain Poupart | NHL.com Correspondent

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4 x - MTL 82 46 28 8 215 204 100
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