The last time Ryan Kesler appeared in USA Hockey Magazine, he was a fresh-faced 21-year-old completing his first full season with the Vancouver Canucks. Four years later he has proven himself to be a leader who has earned the “A” he wears on his sweater.
It’s a testament to the hard-nosed work ethic that has characterized Kesler’s play from the time he was a youth hockey player. It’s also a byproduct of a career that has seen its fair share of ups and downs.
It all started in his hometown of Livonia, Mich., where despite playing hockey for several years, Kesler was cut from every Bantam team he tried out for. As upsetting as it was at the time, the experience gave Kesler a new outlook that helped him with hockey, and with life.
“From then on out I realized that you have to work hard to keep your job,” Kesler said. “Everybody is just working as hard as you are, so you have to find that extra step to work harder than them.”
That hard work paid off as Kesler was invited to join the National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. Kesler played with the team for two years and continued to improve his game with the aid of his coaches.
Ryan Kesler | #17
“I took big strides there,” Kesler said. “I came in as a kid and didn’t really know how to really work out or how to do anything, and they really taught me how to be a professional.”
Those strides included garnering 99 points during 131 games with the program, but it was far from the last time Kesler would wear Team USA’s colors.
After skating as a Buckeye for The Ohio State University during the 2002-03 season, Kesler was drafted by the Canucks, and sent to play for the AHL’s Manitoba Moose.
Kesler returned to the U.S. roster in time to help win gold at the 2002 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, and again as a member of the U.S. squad that captured the first gold medal for the Americans at the 2004 World Junior Championships.
Still, for all of the international hardware he won, Kesler couldn’t crack the veteran U.S. lineup that would compete at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy. Despite the disappointment, Kesler still answered the call the following spring when USA Hockey came looking for players to compete at the IIHF World Championship.
That fall, Kesler was off to one of his best years as a pro when a hip injury put him on the shelf midway through the season.
“It was my first long injury. … I think mentally it was the toughest, physically it wasn’t too hard,” Kesler said.
With the help of the Canucks’ trainers, Kesler worked hard to get back in time for the playoffs, only to be knocked out of commission again, this time with a broken finger.
Since then, Kesler has been sure to make up for lost time, showing his maturity as both a player and a leader. Last season he tallied 59 points, a personal best with Vancouver.
For his efforts Kesler was named team MVP and awarded the Cyclone Taylor Trophy. He was also nominated for the Frank Selke Trophy, a league award given “to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.”
He credits his father for his defensive nature as a player.
“I think it was just how I was brought up. My dad always instilled in me defense first,” Kesler said, noting that his dad was constantly shouting “back- check” from the stands.
“I hate being scored on, that’s probably another reason. I think I was just brought up defense first, and when you get brought up like that I think you just become better everyday at it.”
If Kesler continues his winning ways he could soon be the enemy in Vancouver. Though one of many NHL forwards invited to the U.S. Olympic camp this past summer, Kesler remains hopeful to hear his name called when the final roster is released in late December.
“If I do get a chance to make the team, it’s going to be a dream come true,” Kesler said. “And to be able to play in the city I play in professionally … it’s almost like a second home to me, it’s going to be even that much better.
If Kesler’s resume of professional and international competition is any indication, he’s up for the challenge.
Hometown: Lexington, Ky.
Cali Warta is a quick-change artist. One minute she’s a member of the boys’ varsity hockey team at Henry Clay High School and the next she is jumping and spinning in frilly dresses as a figure skater.
Cali’s mother, June, the skating director at the Lexington Ice Center, says her 16-year-old daughter has earned the respect of her teammates. That’s because she’s a real rink rat. If she is not working on her freestyle figure skating program or having an on-ice or dryland hockey practice or a game, she is on the ice for public skating sessions on weekends. She also teaches TOT hockey classes for kids 6 & Under, and volunteers in the upper-level free skate classes. After high school Cali hopes to travel with Disney on Ice for a year before attending college.