Daily Herald
Keenan 'reunion' not such big deal to Savard
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 11/22/2007 12:18 AM

When Mike Keenan coached the Blackhawks from 1988-92, rare was the day he didn't clash with a player in one way or another.

And nobody butted heads more with Keenan than Denis Savard.

In the two years he played for Keenan starting in 1988, Savard was benched, stripped of his captaincy, kicked off the team briefly during the 1989 playoffs and had his commitment to winning questioned with regularity.

It was Keenan, who after becoming general manager in 1990, ultimately traded Savard to Montreal in a deal that brought Chris Chelios in return.

So after all that you'd think that when Savard coaches the first game of his career against Keenan tonight in Calgary against the Flames, he'd want nothing more than to crush the man who brought him so much misery as a player.

Sorry, folks, there's no juicy story here.

"It's the Calgary Flames against the Blackhawks," Savard said Wednesday. "We need the points, they need the points, so I'm just going to go out and hopefully our team gets the results we want."

Whatever problems he might have had with Keenan all those years ago are in the past, according to Savard.

"To tell you the truth, Mike's a good coach and he had to do what he had to do then and that's just the way it goes," Savard said. "I think you know my personality. I'm not one of those guys that's going to hold a grudge against anybody, whether we worked well or not together. I moved on a long time ago and he's been a good coach in this league for a long time."

Keenan was hired by Calgary GM Darryl Sutter to take the Flames to the next level and win a Stanley Cup. The Flames haven't exactly set the NHL on fire under Keenan in the first quarter of the season, going 9-9-3, but it's still early.

Vezina Trophy-winning goalie Miikka Kiprusoff has struggled with his form, and the Flames haven't seen much scoring from anyone other than Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay.

"I feel that the team has underachieved," Keenan told reporters earlier this week. "Our expectations going into the season were much higher than the results that we're getting at this point."

This might be just another game to Savard, but it's going to be the biggest night of Kris Versteeg's life. The Hawks' rookie winger, recalled from Rockford on Monday, will make his NHL debut playing on Robert Lang's first line -- and just a short drive from where he grew up in Lethbridge, Alberta.

"It's a dream to get called up, first of all," Versteeg said. "But growing up in Lethbridge, to play my first game in Calgary is an absolute dream.

"I just have to go out and play my game, hit guys and try to create some energy."

Versteeg and winger Jacob Dowell were recalled to fill in for the injured Rene Bourque and Jason Williams.

"They had a good camp for us, so I think they're going to fit nice," Savard said. "Versteeg is a skill player who can score goals and plays with grit. He's been waiting for this opportunity, and I think he's going to take advantage of it.

"They say down in the minors he's been playing great. We've got to put him in a spit where he can succeed and I think (with Lang is) where he fits for now. I like what I saw in practice."

Tonight's faceoff

Blackhawks vs. Calgary Flames at the Pengrowth Saddledome, 8 p.m.

TV: Comcast SportsNet

Radio: WSCR 670-AM

The skinny: The Flames have been up and down over the first quarter of the season for new coach Mike Keenan. Goalie Miikka Kiprusoff has struggled early with an .888 save percentage and 9-9-3 record. Jarome Iginla is off to a strong start with 12 goals and 27 points. Owen Nolan has 4 goals in the last six games. Nikolai Khabibulin starts in goal for the Hawks. The two teams split last year's season series 2-2.

Player to watch: Adrian Aucoin. The ex-Hawks captain has 2 goals, 7 assists, is plus-4 and has managed to stay healthy to appear in 21 games.

Next game: Saturday vs. the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place, 9 p.m.

--Tim Sassone