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The Olympians: Ryan Kesler

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

The XXI Olympic Winter Games will be here in a flash with Vancouver becoming home to some of the greatest athletes in the world for a majestic two week period.

The Vancouver Canucks could boast as many as eight Olympians competing in men’s hockey. To celebrate this, will feature a different Olympic hopeful each Friday leading up to the games. This week we bring you Ryan Kesler.

Ryan Kesler was but a twinkle in his dad’s eye the last time the Americans won gold at the Winter Olympics.

The year was 1980 and Herb Brooks was at the helm of a rag tag team of amateur and collegiate players that came together and surged their way to the Olympic championship game.

All that stood in the way of US and gold was the Soviet Union, a team regarded as the best hockey had to offer. That didn’t stop the United States from pulling off one of the greatest upsets in hockey history, the Miracle on Ice, an event every American youngster since has grown up wanting to recreate.

Kesler will get his shot in 2010.

The Michigan-born Canucks forward was one of 23 players named to the American Olympic team for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver on Friday.

“Obviously this is something I’ve always want to do,” said Kesler. “I remember growing up watching the Olympics and watching guys like Brett Hull and Mike Modano and superstars like that wear the USA jersey and it’ll definitely be really special for me. It’s a dream come true for sure.”

The honour of being named to Team USA comes four years after Kesler failed to make the cut for the Americans for the 2006 Winter Games. The then 22-year-old participated in orientation camp and was proud of his showing, but it just wasn’t his time to shine.

“I don’t think I was ready,” Kesler revealed. “They had a pretty good squad and it was only my second year pro and I don’t think I played well enough to make it.”

The same cannot be said this time around as Kesler is now a prized possession for the Americans, who finished with a disappointing 1-4-1 record in Italy and are now looking to reestablish their Olympic presence.

Others named to Team USA include: Patrick Kane, Zach Parise, Bobby Ryan, Phil Kessel, Dustin Brown, Jack Johnson and Tim Thomas.

It’s clear the Americans will be a much different group than in 2006 as they prepare to ice a significantly younger squad, one featuring 21 first time Olympians. Kesler is amongst those players and because of the mammoth stage it may feel like it’s the first time he’s representing his country all together, but that isn’t the case.

Kesler, a member of the U.S. National Team Development Program from 2000-2002, proudly donned the red, white and blue four times between 2002 and 2006. His presence on the international stage was most felt in 2002 at the IIHF World U18 Hockey Championships when he paced the Americans to a gold medal with seven points in eight games.

“That was something that was pretty cool. You don’t often get a chance to represent your country and when you win a gold medal in tournament as big as that one, it was awesome.

“It was great just putting on that sweater; it meant a lot even at a young age. Looking back at it, I was very lucky to be able to wear that sweater for a couple of years.”

Now older, wiser and indisputably better than the last time he went to battle for the Americans at the World Championships in 2006, Kesler has the ability to be a difference maker for Team USA, regardless of the role he’s thrust into. Fans of the Canucks have seen first hand what a game changer he can be when called upon.

Fierce attitude; check.

Heart of a lion; check.

All-star skills; check.

Kesler’s got a bit of it all and the US hopes he can help them break out of a 30-year gold medal drought in 2010. The Americans have placed first twice at the Games, back in 1960, then 1980.

Getting passed the likes of Canada, Russia, Sweden and Finland to sit atop the podium won’t be easy and Kesler knows that. With the Olympics being such a one and done event, he’s putting a lot of stock in the team coming together as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Hold up - that can’t be as easy as said when many of the players Kesler will soon call teammates are the same guys he’s gone to great lengths to agitate and get the best of for the past five seasons.

“It really is an interesting situation that way,” he smiled, “but I think it all has to be forgotten if you want to have a successful team. You need to put all that other stuff aside, enemies become friends in that short period of time and that’s something that needs to happen.

“We’ve already started that in a way with the camp we did in the summer and as soon as the team is official, I really think you’ll start seeing guys phoning each other more and more.”

Kesler may not remember the Miracle on Ice, but he’s familiar with how the 2002 Olympics finished. He was crowded around a TV with teammates in Russia when Canada shot down the Americans 5-2.

Yes, that score still bothers him and yes, he wants redemption. More than anything Kesler just wants a shot at gold, regardless of the opponent.

“Just to get to the finals would be awesome. Beating Canada would make it extra special, but just to make it would be good.

“I like the looks of our team. It’s a good mixture of veterans and young guys, so I think we should be able to contend for a medal.”

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