Former Hawks excited for UC return

CHICAGO -- Florida Panthers forward Kris Versteeg says he still gets treated like royalty when he comes back to Chicago as he is on Friday to take on his former team, the Blackhawks.

Versteeg joins current teammates Brian Campbell, John Madden and Tomas Kopecky in a return of former Stanley Cup champions to the building they had so much success in two seasons ago. Former Hawk Jack Skille is scheduled to play as well after being out with an injury.

“[It’s] the first time I’ve been back to the rink since Game 5 [of the Stanley Cup finals in 2010]. I remember we won Game 5 and I was looking around at the fans, and I said this is the last time we’re going to be here because we’re going to win it in Game 6,” Versteeg said after Panthers practice Friday morning at the United Center. “It’s nice to be back.”

The Hawks did win Game 6 and then the team was famously broken up due to salary cap restraints. But the bond between former teammates lives on -- and so does the friendly jabs. Jonathan Toews got together with Versteeg Thursday night after the Panthers arrived in town.

"I was willing to take him to the hair salon and get him a haircut last night, but he didn’t want to do that,” Toews joked after Hawks’ practice.

Versteeg has grown his blond hair out and says he hears it from players every night. Friday will be no exception.

“I already have Bolland telling me he’s going to be giving it to me all night about my hair,” Versteeg said. “If it takes the focus off the game, that’s a positive. As for Toews, he’s trying to get inside my head. I’m already inside his.”

Campbell is hoping for a better response from the fans in Chicago than he’s received from other former teams he’s played for. He’s been booed in Buffalo and San Jose but he didn’t help win those cities a Stanley Cup.

“It’ll be fun,” Campbell said. “These fans are the best. Hopefully we all get a nice response but then we have to get down to work.”

Though it is work, several players talked about how strange it is to face so many former teammates on one team.

“It’s almost like it’s not a real hockey game,” Kane said. “You’re out there laughing and joking around and having fun. But at the same time you want to beat them, too. It’s a little bit different but definitely fun.”

The joking and laughing around can extend to anything considering how well many of the players know each other. Kane was reminded of Versteeg’s infamous rap session during the Stanley Cup parade in June 2010.

“You call those skills?” Kane joked. “I don’t know if you can call it a skill. That was pretty embarrassing, so hopefully we don’t have to see that for a while.”

Ray Emery starts in net for the Hawks while Jose Theodore is expected to play for the Panthers.

Sharp update: Joel Quenneville said forward Patrick Sharp is making progress toward a return after the All-Star break. Sharp is out with a wrist injury.

“There are three games on that trip in four nights so hopefully he can begin it,” Quenneville said Friday morning. “We’re anticipating he’ll get started on that trip.”