-- On a night brimming with big stars, it can be easy to overlook the most vital luminaries. Backstage discussing his Frank J. Selke Award for best defensive forward this past NHL season, Ryan Kesler
didn't miss the brightest reason for his honor.
"I guess all those years of my Dad yelling 'backcheck' paid off," said Kesler, who is clearly still struggling with the Game 7 loss in the Stanley Cup Final one week ago tonight.
Kesler's father was on hand for the award, which Kesler won for the first time in his third straight year as a finalist. The elder Kesler makes regular trips to Vancouver and other NHL cities to see his son play.
"He always taught me that defense came first," explained Kesler. "I went with it ... I came into this League as a third-line checking center and turned into this."
Kesler allowed that NHL players tend to respect the Selke Trophy in a deeper fashion than some of the categories. "I pride myself on being hard to play against," Kesler said.
The Vancouver center put up some impressive numbers to make him that tough opponent. He delivered 80 blocked shots, tops among forwards, recorded 124 hits and won a career-high 57.4 percent of his faceoffs -- all platinum Selke stats. On top of that, Kesler scored 41 goals this season, verifying the long-standing belief that offense is the best defense.
One reporter suggested that being a defensive stopper translates to being unpopular with opponents, though Kesler was named by fellow All-Stars as an alternate captain of Team Staal at the 2011 NHL All-Star Game.
"I have 23 friends on my team," said Kesler. "I don't need any more friends."
Kesler was the first-place choice on 105 of 127 ballots and dominated the point totals over Western Conference rivals Jonathan Toews
and Pavel Datsyuk
. Kesler's win stopped a three-year Selke streak by Datsyuk.