By Derek Jory
Backchecking finally paid off.
When Ryan Kesler was just getting his hockey legs under him, his father Mike preached defence first. Anyone could score, but only elite players could score and contribute defensively.
Kesler is now as elite as backchecking players get after winning the Frank J. Selke Trophy, awarded to the forward who demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game, Wednesday night at the 2011 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.
Third time proved to be a charm for Kesler, the first winner in Canucks history, after two consecutive years of being nominated as the top two-way player in the game, but losing out to Pavel Datsyuk. The Detroit forward had his streak of three straight wins snapped by Kesler, who had 41 goals and 32 assists for 73 points, 80 blocked shots, 124 hits, 65 takeaways and a plus-24 rating in 82 games this year.
Entertainer Criss Angel presented the award to Kesler, who made his way to the stage after kissing his wife Andrea before Ryan and Mike shook hands and father patted son on the back for a job well done.
“It’s something that eluded me the past couple of years and it’s nice to finally win it, mostly for my dad, he supported me growing up and for him I definitely have a lot to repay him for,” said Kesler, still giddy from winning.
“There are so many people I forgot to thank out there,” he laughed. “I forgot my family, obviously my teammates were a big part of this and I couldn’t have done it without them.
“When you play on a great team and have great guys like I have, and great role models like Trevor Linden and Markus Naslund, to bring you up the right way, it’s easier to win awards like this.”
Kesler’s Selke nod was one of an NHL-best five awards taken home by the Canucks.
In addition to winning his first Art Ross Trophy, Daniel Sedin also received the Ted Lindsay Award as the MVP as voted on by the NHL Players Association. He's the second Canucks player to win the award, with Naslund receiving the honour in 2003.
“To get that recognition from teammates and opponents too, it means a lot to me,” said Daniel. “It’s been a fun night, I’ve been enjoying myself and I thought I did pretty good in my speech too, so I’m pretty happy.”
Daniel, looking to follow in brother Henrik’s footsteps in winning the Hart Trophy, finished as the runner-up receiving 51 first-place votes. He finished 83 voting points behind the winner Corey Perry.
“Corey obviously had a great finish to the season and helped his team make the playoffs so he really deserves it and I couldn’t be happier for him,” said Daniel.
The Sedins were named to the NHL First All-Star Team Wednesday night and in doing so became the first brothers to be named to the All-Star Team since Phil & Tony Esposito did it in 1970.
Joining Daniel and Henrik on the First All-Star Team were Perry, Nicklas Lidstrom, Shea Weber and Tim Thomas.
In just the second year of existence for the NHL GM of the Year award, Canucks general manager Mike Gillis walked away with the top prize; he had 14 first-place votes and was 35 voting points ahead of runner-up Steve Yzerman.
Under Gillis the Canucks were the top team in the NHL during the 2010-11 regular season winning a franchise record 54 games, losing a franchise low 19 games, collecting a team and NHL best 117 points for their first Presidents Trophy.
Despite Gillis being at the controls of the team, he acknowledges all the contributions he gets from his team.
“It’s really not my award, it’s a team award and our management team award,” said Gillis. “We have incredible owners who are totally committed to winning, which is just great. They support everything I want to do and they let me take chances and risks and some of them work and some of them don’t and they’re prepared to accept that risk so I’m very fortunate.
“There’s a lot of people that work really hard to get this far and as a GM you rely on a lot of people and give them a lot of responsibility. We’re very fortunate that we have great people in our organization who work hard and they care deeply about how we do so we’re very fortunate.”
The Canucks also led the league in goals for with 262 and lowest goals against at 185, which landed Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider a share of the William Jennings Award.
Luongo was also up for the Vezina Trophy, finishing third in voting with three first-place votes.
Last but certainly not least, Alain Vigneault finished second behind Pittsburgh’s Dan Bylsma for the Jack Adams Award as Coach of the Year. This was Vigneault’s third nomination; he won the award in 2006-07.