Hitting His Stride

NHL Awards finish off monumental season for Canucks star Kesler

Although we’re not even halfway through 2010, it’s already been one hell of a year for Ryan Kesler. The Vancouver Canucks star played for the U.S. Olympic hockey team in his adopted NHL hometown, is going to be on the cover of EA Sports’ NHL 2K11 video game and is a finalist for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, given to the league’s outstanding defensive forward, at the June 23 NHL Awards show at the Palms.

Despite all the accolades, however, Kesler is still trying to shake his disappointing performance during the Stanley Cup playoffs. After setting a personal best in points during the regular season for the third consecutive year, tallying 25 goals and 50 assists, his production dropped off in the postseason, where he had just one goal and 10 assists in 12 games as Vancouver was eliminated in six games in the second round by the eventual Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.

“I did a lot of soul-searching,” he says. “It’s hard. It’s a lot of sleepless nights, and I still rack my brain on why I didn’t have it [in the playoffs]. I’m still trying to find that answer.”

At the age of 25, though, Kesler is a player on the rise and should get other opportunities to hoist the Cup. The opportunity to play in the Vancouver Winter Games, though, was a unique experience.

“I’d never imagine in a million years that I’d be playing in the Olympics in a place I call home,” he says. “I’ve been playing there for seven years, and I was fortunate enough to have 14 family members the first week [of the Olympics] and a new 14 come the next week.”

While Kesler, who was born and still lives in Livonia, Mich., has been embraced by Vancouver fans, he had to withstand getting booed by many of the same people who usually cheer his name during the Olympics, especially when he clinched the Americans’ 5-3 victory over Canada in the preliminary round when he scored an empty-net goal, which he called the greatest moment of his career.

In a rematch between the squads in the gold medal game, Kesler scored again, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Canada from coming away with a 3-2 overtime victory.

“To be able to play in that gold medal game, it’s something I’ll always remember,” he says. “It’s definitely the best game so far in my career.”

Kesler is up for the Selke Trophy for the second straight year at the NHL Awards show, which will be held at the Pearl Theater inside the Palms. Kesler finished third last year behind winner Pavel Datsyuk of Detroit and Philadelphia’s Mike Richards. While he is surely no lock for the honor this year going against Datsyuk and Pittsburgh’s Jordan Staal, Kesler believes he has a good shot at leaving the Palms with some hardware this time.

“I like my chances,” he says. “Last year, I probably wouldn’t have bet on myself. I probably would have bet on [Datsyuk], but this year I like my chances. And if I don’t win, it’s still a great event.”

The highlight of Kesler’s trip to Las Vegas last year was skating on synthetic ice along the Strip with Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin as they did motion capture for NHL 2K10. With the city’s popularity among NHL players, Kesler says Las Vegas would have a built-in advantage if it ever landed an NHL team.

“I think they’d have the best home record in the league for sure because I know players love coming here on their off time, so they’d love coming here when they’re playing,” he says. “It would be good. There are a lot of snowbirds that come down here, and a lot of hockey fans. Just walking around there’s a lot of hockey fans in Vegas, and you kind of don’t expect that.”

Some of the other awards being presented at the Palms include the Vezina Trophy (outstanding goaltender), Calder Memorial Trophy (outstanding rookie), James Norris Memorial Trophy (outstanding defenseman), Jack Adams Award (outstanding coach) and Hart Memorial Trophy (most valuable player). For the complete list of awards and nominees, go to nhl.com.

The awards show will be broadcast live at 4:30 p.m. on Versus, and tickets for the show can be purchased at ticketmaster.com. All tickets are $304, which includes access to the cocktail reception afterward, although you must be at least 21 to attend the post-show party.

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