VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- "I guarantee that we'll beat the Canadians."
That was forward Ryan Kesler(notes) on this blog in August 2009, before the U.S. Olympic hockey team had even been formally named. Over six months later, he fulfilled the promise with an outstanding game that personified the speed, grit and tenacity that the U.S. used to upset Canada, 5-3, on Sunday night.
He played 17:18, and in several critical situations. His blocked shot during a three-shot sequence by Canada in the third period saved a goal. "It was a reaction more than anything," he said.
"I thought I was going to take it in the teeth there."
But it was his empty-net goal they'll be writing sonnets about in USA Hockey circles: With goalie Martin Brodeur(notes) pulled for Canada, the U.S. defense was scrambling to preserve a 4-3 lead. The puck cleared the U.S. zone, and Corey Perry(notes) skated back to collect it. Kesler closed in faster and faster. The two were suddenly shoulder to shoulder. Then Kelser reached his stick around the Anaheim Ducks forward and smacked the puck in the empty net.
Said Kesler: "I just tried to chase it down the ice, get a stick on it and direct it towards the net. And the best happened."
Like every American goal scored, this one resulted in stunned silence around Hockey Place as American players leaped on each other in overwhelming exuberance like five red, white and blue Ovechkins. There were 45 seconds of formality remaining. Kesler had secured one of the most memorable wins in USA Hockey history, even if it involved bragging rights instead of championship hardware.
"It's a game where we came in as the underdogs, and I think all the pressure was on Canada in this game," said Kesler. "We just wanted to forecheck hard. We were playing our game out there. We wanted to have fun because there are only so many games like this. To beat Canada on its own soil is special."
Of course it wasn't just Canadian soil; it was Kesler's home arena as a member of the Vancouver Canucks. Can he still get a table at a local restaurant after placing a dagger in the Canadians during the Olympics?
"I got my own equipment manager grabbing me after the game, so I definitely won't be able to get into any restaurants," he said. "To beat Canada ... we wanted to come into this game and give it our best shot. It's a good hockey club over there. For us to come out on top is pretty special."
It also may be a first step. There was a chance the Americans could be the top seed in the elimination round, depending on the outcome of the Finland-Sweden late game.
More importantly, there's still another promise made by Ryan Kesler back in August: "I think the United States will medal. I'll guarantee that."
- Ryan Kesler