Over the past few seasons, Ryan Kesler has become accustomed to receiving constant support and encouragement from the Vancouver fan base due to his tireless work ethic and emerging offensive skills. During a two week period next February, however, this will likely change.
Barring an injury or a dismal start to the season, Kesler – the lone American on the Canucks roster – will don the red, white and blue as he represents Team USA at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. The US Olympic Orientation Camp will take place from August 17th to 19th in Wooldridge, Ill., and with Brian Burke – the General Manager who drafted Kesler in the first place – at the helm, rest assured that the Canucks forward will be given every opportunity to make the squad.
Kesler didn’t need to alter or accelerate his training regime at all to accommodate the orientation camp, because he would usually return to Vancouver and skate with the team around mid-August anyway.
“I’m pretty much full into working out and skating everyday so it’s pretty normal for me; I’ll have fun with it and try to impress,” said Kesler via phone from his home in Michigan.
Kesler realizes that he will no longer be a fan favorite in Vancouver during the Olympics, but he is excited about the opportunity to represent his country in his second home nonetheless.
“Obviously, it’s a dream of mine to represent and play for my country,” he said. “And to play for my country in front of the fans I play for night in and night out makes it that much more special.”
Playing in Vancouver will have its advantages for Kesler, who will not only be familiar with the city, but also the rink he’ll be playing in: General Motors Place, which will actually be known as Canada Hockey Place during the Olympic period. However, it will also have its drawbacks for Kesler and the entire Canucks organization.
In order to accommodate the Olympics, the Canucks will embark on a 14 game road-trip commencing on January 30th in Toronto, and concluding on March 10th in Phoenix. Kesler says he hasn’t given much thought to the road-trip, at least not yet.
“No I haven’t, and I’m probably not going to think about it until the middle of the year,” chuckled Kesler. “It’s going to be a grind; it’s probably going to be a big swing in our regular season. It’s going to be a grind within a grind so it’s going to be tough, but we’re just going to have to be smart about it and rest at the right times.
“I think that’s one thing our team is really good about, so I think we’ll be all right and having that break in the middle is going to help a lot too.”
As training camp rapidly approaches, it looks more and more like Kesler will have at least one new linemate with the Canucks this season. While no formal decision has been made, it is unlikely that Mats Sundin will return to the Canucks lineup for a second consecutive year.
Although Sundin didn’t produce as much as many would have liked, his presence allowed Kesler to flourish in his new role. However, even without Sundin, Kesler remains confident in the Canucks current group of forwards.
“Obviously, it’s going to be a little different without Mats on my line if he doesn’t come back,” noted Kesler. “He helped me a lot; he helped me become the player that I am today. But if he doesn’t come back, I’m pretty confident in our group of forwards.
“We picked up Samuelsson, which was a big addition; he’s a very good player. And with Wellwood and Bernier and our young players, they get better every year. I think those players have to take another step in their game and I think they’re going to bring it next year.”
Just as Kesler expects the likes of Kyle Wellwood, Steve Bernier and others to elevate their play next season, he hopes to improve all facets of his own game as well.
“I want to improve every season,” said Kesler, who reached seven of the eight goals he set for himself last season. “That includes getting more points, being better offensively, and being better defensively.”
Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault made a bold decision to separate the dynamic duo of Kesler and Alex Burrows midway through last season. Burrows joined the Sedin twins, while Kesler joined Pavol Demitra and Mats Sundin. This tweak allowed Kesler’s offensive abilities to come to fruition, as he remained a fixture on the top two lines for the duration of the season.
Despite being named the Canucks most valuable player and receiving a Selke trophy nomination, Kesler insists he’ll be happy to play any role on the US Olympic squad if given the opportunity.
“I don’t care where they have me. I don’t care if they have me playing defence; I’ll still do the best I can.”