USA Hockey 2014 Olympic Portraits

Despite heavy workoad under Torts, Kesler feels ‘great’


SOCHI, Russia — You know Ryan Kesler plays in an obsessive hockey market when he has to come to the Olympics to fly under the radar.

The 29-year-old was a side attraction Wednesday afternoon following United States practice, with almost all the attention on coach Dan Bylsma’s decision to start Jonathan Quick over Ryan Miller for Thursday’s opener versus Slovakia.

That said, Kesler will be expected to play a front-and-center role for his American side, just as he did four years ago. A two-way center with a Selke Trophy on his resume, he was on the U.S. team that fell just shy of gold in 2010. Not long after, in the same Vancouver arena no less, he fell just shy of winning the 2011 Stanley Cup when his Canucks lost Game 7 of a nasty series with the Boston Bruins.

“That’s in the past,” Kesler said when asked if he still thought about losing the two biggest games in hockey. “It’s experience that you draw upon when you need it. But it’s a new tournament, new Olympics.”

Kesler has been a workhorse this season under new Canucks coach John Tortorella. In fact, no forward in the entire NHL has played more total minutes than the Livonia native. He also leads Vancouver with 20 goals in 60 games.

Given the Canucks’ struggles of late, Kesler’s ice time — along with that of the Sedin twins — has been an especially hot topic in the hockey-mad city.

“I think I play maybe two minutes more per game,” he said. “I mean, it’s not that much more. My body feels great, and I’m ready to get this going.”

And all those people in Vancouver making a big deal out of it?

“A lot of people in Vancouver make a lot of everything,” he said. “It’s two minutes. It’s two shifts. It’s not that big a deal for me.”

At U.S. practice, Kesler has been skating on a line with Patrick Kane and Dustin Brown, the latter of whom he fought in an NHL game just a month ago.

“We talked about it,” Kesler said with a smile. “We made amends.”

Habs claim Byron off waivers from Flames

Paul Byron
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Montreal added some forward depth on Tuesday, acquiring diminutive forward Paul Byron off waivers from Calgary.

Byron, 26, is a veteran of nearly 150 career NHL games, most coming with the Flames. Despite fairly solid production over the last two years — 40 points in 104 games — he was exposed to waivers on Monday, along with fellow forward Mason Raymond.

(Calgary does have a logjam of players at forward, hence parting ways with Byron and Raymond.)

Byron can play both wing and center but, at 5-foot-7, 153 pounds, is one of the most undersized skaters in the league. Thankfully for him, Montreal has an affinity for undersized forwards, with the likes of Brendan Gallagher (5-foot-9, 184 pounds) and David Desharnais (5-foot-7, 174 pounds) already on the active roster.

Byron could also fill Zack Kassian‘s roster spot. Kassian is currently suspended without pay while undergoing Stage 2 of the NHL’s Substance Abuse program.

Isles claim goalie Berube off waivers

Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jaroslav Halak
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The New York Islanders have claimed goalie Jean-Francois Berube off waivers from the Los Angeles Kings, the club announced today.

Berube won the Calder Cup last season with AHL Manchester, but the 24-year-old has yet to appear in an NHL game.

That the Isles claimed Berube could be evidence that Jaroslav Halak will not be ready to start the season after all.

If that’s the case, Berube would back up Thomas Greiss, with Stephon Williams expected to go to the AHL.

The Isles open their regular season Friday at home versus the Blackhawks, then play the next day in Chicago.