As is his habit, American forward Ryan Kesler
left his imprint all over Team USA's 2-0 win against Switzerland in Wednesday's Olympic quarterfinal at Canada Hockey Place.
Despite not registering a point, he was the focal point of much of the 60-minute session of trench warfare that sent the Americans into an unexpected berth into a semifinal against Finland on Friday.
American GM Brian Burke knew that Kesler would be an integral part of any success his team would have in this tournament. The Vancouver Canucks forward did not make the final roster as a hometown courtesy.
On Monday, Burke was effusive in his praise of Kesler, who had scored an empty-net goal the night before against Canada in pool play to settle that game in favor of the United States and give the Americans the top seed in the quarterfinals.
was a warrior," Burke said. "He competed in all areas. He was physical and used his foot speed. He was a pain in the ass to play against. I thought he was great."
On Wednesday, he was even better.
No American forward played more minutes against the Swiss than Kesler, who logged 19 minutes and 16 seconds of ice time across 22 shifts.
Every time Ron Wilson needed a big faceoff win, he tapped No. 17 on the back.
"It's very important to start with the puck," Kesler said. "It gets the other team chasing all night. And if we can start with the puck, it gives us a better chance offensively."
Every time the Americans needed to kill a penalty, Kesler was in the four-man forward rotation deployed by the American coaching staff
Late in the game, Kesler was on every other shift as the Americans tried to keep the desperate Swiss side at bay.
Oh yeah, he was also the key figure in a five-minute stretch of hockey, bridging the second and third periods, that ended up defining this quarterfinal.
The sequence started in typical Kesler fashion as he chased down a loose puck in the period's last two seconds, firing it hopefully at a rock-solid Hiller. Amazingly, Hiller misplayed it, bobbling the initial shot before using his goalie stick to bat it over his own shoulder and into the net.
"I knew there wasn't much time left and I just tried to throw it on net to generate a rebound and it happened to find the back of the net," Kesler said
Unfortunately, for Kesler and the Americans, the play was reviewed and it was determined that time had expired an instant before the airborne puck crossed the plane of the goal line.
"I thought I scored, I thought it was in," Kesler said. "I thought we were going into the locker room up, 1-0. Apparently the time ran out and I wasn’t lucky enough."
But, Kesler has never been one to let bad luck or bad breaks keep him down. So, he was right back at it in the third period.
In fact, he said that even though the goal was disallowed, just seeing the puck behind Hiller, who had 32 saves to that point, was enough to put some spark Into the Americans
"It was still pretty positive," he said of the atmosphere during the intermission. "I think seeing that puck go in the back of the net; the guys knew that he was beatable. And, even if it was a half-second late, guys were still really positive and the mood was good."
On his second shift of the third period, he found himself parked just to the right of Hiller, battling with defenseman Mathias Seger in an effort to get screening position. Again, he thought he had succeeded when defenseman Ryan Suter fired a seeing-eye snap shot that eluded Hiller.
But before Kesler could even raise his arm in triumph, referee Paul Devorski had raised his in objection -- assessing a high-sticking penalty on Kesler, who had dislodged Seger's helmet in the tussle.
Afterward, Kesler tried to be philosophical about the call, but the irritation of not being allowed to play his style by the officiating was clear.
"I was more upset about the disallowed goal than anything," Kesler said. "(Devorski) saw the helmet on the ground and thought it was a penalty. The game happens fast. Guys make mistakes. I thought I had position on him."
But again, he just kept going -- winning faceoffs, blocking shots, playing solid defense and driving his opposition batty with hard hits and pointed verbal barbs.
Simply, just playing the warrior role his GM envisioned him to play months before this tournament even began.