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.”