Fri May 06 01:31pm EDT
You don't have to be a pro scout to know that Ryan Kesler(notes) of the Vancouver Canucks fits the very enviable description of what the hockey world refers to as a "horse." You could hook up a plow to the dudes back and I'm pretty sure he could till a sizable field by nightfall.
If the Canucks are going to turn their Cup dreams into a reality this season, they're going to have to hitch their wagon to him. It's not that the Sedin brothers or Luongo aren't great players, it's just that none of them fit the description of the true horse (despite the hilarious jokes I foresee in the comment section).
Since the lockout, we've seen that you have to have at least one of these centaurs to hoist the Cup.
Presenting your Cup-providing horses, in order from 2005-2006 to present: 2006: Carolina Hurricanes (Eric Staal(notes), the definition of horse), 2007: Anaheim Ducks (Chris Pronger(notes), a developing Ryan Getzlaf(notes)), 2008: Detroit Red Wings (Johan Franzen(notes), Tomas Holmstrom(notes)), 2009: Pittsburgh Penguins (Sidney Crosby(notes), the smallest person ever to qualify as a horse ... are there pygmy horses?), 2010: Chicago Blackhawks (Jonathan Toews(notes)).
The definition of a horse at its very simplest is that they're basically genetically built to play hockey. I could go to the gym every day from now until whenever and still never achieve horse status. They have great work ethic, no fear, they're aggressive. Aside from One-of-a-Kind Crosby, they're almost always big, lean men packed with energizer batteries.
Ryan Kesler fits the description of the guy who would be carrying the football into the end zone with three people on his back and two dragging at his legs — I believe it was Marshawn Lynch who referred to that as "Beast Mode," but on the ice rink it's a little more like Horse Mode. You get to gallop a lot more in hockey than you do on a football field.
The snapbomb he launched for the game winner last night (as opposed to the interview bombs he's been dropping all season) was the perfect example of what a strong player with a head of steam and no fear can do.
Round one versus the Chicago Blackhawks saw Kesler engaged in one of the more underrated playoff battles thus far, when Jonathan Toews (Selke nominee) went head-to-head with him (also a Selke nominee) and they Selke'd each other to death, combining for a grand total of no goals until the dying seconds of game seven when Toews put home a fantastic short-handed effort.
It was some hot horse-on-horse action.
And it's efforts like that which differentiate the horse from the goal-scorer (and part of the reason non-horsey stars like Alexander Semin(notes) and Nicklas Backstrom(notes) struggle in playoffs) — when times get tight and scoring gets tough, They-That-Neigh still manage to contribute something to your team. It takes hard work and a well-rounded game to be valuable when you don't score, and I'd say keeping Toews from scoring for nearly seven games (only happened one time all season) qualifies.
If the Nucks manage to push past a good Nashville team, their forecast is mostly Sharky with a chance of Lightning (or a chance of Bruins, it just sounded better with Lightning), and they'll need more of the same from him.
Kesler scored 41 times during the regular season, and that's not even where horses play their best hockey. The more the slog of tight-checking playoff hockey hampers everyone else, the more these guys thrive, just a-tilling the damn field no matter how many rocks are in the way.
As much as the team needs productive hockey from its 2010 Hart winner, its 2011 Hart nominee, its 2011 Vezina nominee and the rest of its cast of characters, they need Kesler to be the engine that powers them over the hump.
They refer to the teams that make playoffs as a "field" for a reason - that's where horses run best.