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Overcoming health woes made Kessel stronger

Thursday, 03.05.2009 / 7:35 PM / Hockey's Finest Presented by Army

By John McGourty - NHL.com Staff Writer

Boston Bruins right wing Phil Kessel has been through a lot in his short NHL career. But the forward hasn't let testicular cancer or mononucleosis stop him.

Kessel has a strong moral core derived from his parents. Kessel made it clear that his family is paramount in his life and provided him with a great deal of support when his cancer was discovered during his rookie season of 2006-07.

Despite the grim news that cancer has struck someone so young, Kessel persevered. He missed 12 games that season and went on to play in 167-straight games before he was struck with mononucleosis in December of this season.

Kessel said the illnesses have made him focus more on the important things in life, and the importance of life itself. He said it has made him a strong person and, hopefully, a better person.

He said he was good about the community-relations responsibilities of being a pro athlete, like visiting sick children in hospitals, before his cancer, but has become much more involved since the illness.

"I like doing it, to tell you the truth," Kessel said. "I really like going and seeing the kids. The only thing that's hard for me is when the kids are hurting. That's really hard to watch. I'd rather be there than see this little kid there. Put me in his place, because you just can't believe a 5-year-old or a 7-year-old could be going through something so tough.

"I enjoy going because it makes them happy, so I'd go anytime. When they see me, they're always happy."

Kessel said he believes he's out of the woods after the cancer scare. At first, he had to go for checkups every two months, then every three months and now it's every six months. He was worried when he started experiencing symptoms of fatigue earlier this season and tried to play on before he was diagnosed with mononucleosis.

"I knew I had it a month before," he said. "I finally got to the point where I couldn't go anymore. I just figured that's my luck."

But Kessel said he's had more good luck than bad.

"It's been a roller coaster, but what can you do?" he said. "I just try to stay positive. It's best when you can look for the good things in life. Obviously, I have a good life. I'm happy with what I do. I love playing hockey. I love my job. I can't complain about anything. That stuff is hard but you have to stay positive."

Kessel also is positive about being on the Bruins' top line with playmaker Marc Savard, seventh in the NHL with 49 assists, and bruising winger Milan Lucic. But it took more than a year for the Bruins to jell and that's what has allowed them to move up from eighth in the Eastern Conference last season to first.

"It's been a roller coaster, but what can you do? I just try to stay positive. It's best when you can look for the good things in life. Obviously, I have a good life. I'm happy with what I do. I love playing hockey. I love my job. I can't complain about anything. That stuff is hard but you have to stay positive."
-- Phil Kessel

"(The NHL) is a different game," the former University of Minnesota star said. "The guys are bigger and stronger and they're more experienced. I'm playing against men, 25-30 years old who have been around a lot and know a lot of different tricks. I had to adapt to that. You have to work on your game and improve the little aspects of your game while adding strength and skills."

Kessel was asked the difference between this team and last season's Bruins' squad.

"We have a great group of guys who play for each other," Kessel said. "Everyone cares about the team and not themselves. Everyone is playing for the team to win. When you do that, you win hockey games. Everyone will sacrifice to win games.

"I think it was there before, but sometimes you don't get the breaks. This year, I'm playing with 'Savvy' and 'Looch' and we connected. We have good chemistry together and we work well out there. We are so used to each other now."

Kessel is firmly established in the NHL now, a high first-round draft pick who is putting up points while helping his team lead the Eastern Conference. He has years of good hockey ahead of him.

"I hope 15 years down the road, people remember me as a good hockey player, but also remember me as a good person who would do anything for anyone else and was always willing to give back."


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