Puck Daddy - NHL

It was a Wednesday in August, and Ryan Kesler(notes) of the Vancouver Canucks was talking hockey in 100-degree weather.

He was in Tarzana, a town in California that earned its name because "Tarzan" author Edgar Rice Burroughs once owned a large ranch within its boundaries, filming some hockey-related content for 2K Sports, which will release NHL 2K10 in September.

It's not the first time Kesler has promoted video game hockey this summer; he previously appeared with Alexander Ovechkin(notes) in an outdoor motion capture session on the Vegas Strip.

Kesler's game for this stuff because he's a gamer himself: Tackling everything from hockey to "Halo."

Then again, he's also considered a gamer in the NHL: Playing a tenacious brand of aggressive hockey for the Canucks that earned him his first Selke Trophy nomination last season and his finest offensive campaign as a pro. He's matured and grown into a vital player for Vancouver in the last two seasons.

Kesler's a low-key guy off the ice, which is seemingly at odds with his reputation as a pest in the NHL. Actually, he said that being known as a pest bugs him: "Yeah, it kind of bothers me," said Kesler, claiming the term carries a negative connotation for him away from the rink. But he said his family understands the difference between who he is on the ice and off.

We spoke with Kesler about video game hockey, playing the role of pest, visiting Vegas, whether he'll be back in Vancouver as a free-agent next summer, the Sedin twins, Mats Sundin(notes) and whether the Michigan native will guarantee a medal for the U.S. in the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Here's Kesler ...

Q. What as the first video-gaming system you played as a kid?

KESLER: Nintendo. The old school. "Ice Hockey" ... "Blades of Steel."

OK, so now you've opened the door to this question: What was your player configuration for "Nintendo Ice Hockey"?

[Laughs] One medium, one big and two skinnys.

Interesting. I was a skinny, medium, fat, fat guy.

Really?

Yeah, so I would have kicked your [butt] on the game.

You wouldn't have been able to catch me.

You're involved with promoting and producing NHL 2K10, due out in September. When you play an NHL video game, do you ever use the Canucks?

Sometimes. If I need a confidence boost, I'll use myself. [Laughs]

No, I usually try and pick one of the worst teams and try to challenge myself to win.

What's was the gist of the 2K Sports commercial you were shooting today?

It was a chance for us to be ourselves, talk a little about hockey. Kevin Bieksa's(notes) here, Jack Johnson(notes) [from the Los Angeles Kings] is here.

Is Bieksa a gamer too? If not, has he ever given it a shot?

No. Not all all. He doesn't have the time for it. [Laughs] We room on the road, and I don't play many games on the road. We like the same television shows, though.

Have you had a chance to provide some input into how the game would play?

Yeah, you know, they're really all about making things fun, whether you play hockey or its your first time playing the game.

When I played 2K9 on the Wii, I had a hell of a time with faceoffs. As a Selke nominee, is that something you worked on?

I didn't have any problems with faceoffs. That sounds like user error. [Laughs]

Faceoffs ... alright, I'll tell'em about the faceoffs.

Fair enough, fair enough. Do you know what your player rating is going to be in NHL 2K10?

I was hoping for 99, but probably around 80. I'm tryin' [to get it higher].

You were nominated for the Selke Award last season, and you also won the awesomely named Cyclone Taylor Award as Canucks team MVP. What does one receive for winning the Cyclone Taylor Award?

To be honest, it's just a pat on the back and a "good job."

What was the Las Vegas experience like for Ryan Kesler?

It was kind of crazy. My wife and I walked the red carpet together, and she was shaking the whole time. She was so nervous with all those cameras. You get a little flustered, with all the glamour and the lights. I was just happy to get back home to my small hometown in Michigan.

Speaking of Vegas-style gaming, I read an interview with you in which you said you don't play a lot of cards on the road but you do throw dice. In consulting with Puck Daddy assistant editor Sean Leahy, we believe you may be the first white guy to admit he's a dice player in the last 20 years.

You know, I used to be a blackjack player, all the way. But a guy who signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins last year, Chris Connor, got me into it. It's a tough game, and the more you play it, you understand it. After a while, you just get into it.

As a blackjack player: Do you bet on 16?

Bet on 16, all the time. You're there to gamble, aren't ya? If the dealer's showing six or below.

What do you do in the offseason to try and relax?

The offseason can be as tough as it is in-season. You're trying to stay in shape. But for a couple of months I just try and relax on my boat. We live right near a lake.

Do you fish?

That's about all I do is fish. Never catch anything.

Nah, I had a couple of large-mouthed and small-mouthed bass [this year].

So next summer you're a restricted free agent. What's your mindset about that heading into next season?

You know what? I want to get something done before the season starts, but if it doesn't happen then it doesn't happen. I want to stay in Vancouver. I love it, my family loves it. It's a great city; maybe the most beautiful city in North America. The Canucks are a great organization.

Obviously, I'm gonna stay there and I want to stay there. If the media wants to ask me about it, I'll say, "Yeah, I want to stay there." I'll let the media ask me about it once, and then after that I won't answer a single question about it.

Was there a moment this offseason when you felt the Sedins weren't coming back to Vancouver?

No, no ... just talking to them, they love it there. Their families love it there. I just think it's a good fit for our team, and a good fit for them.

And do you have any inkling on where Mats Sundin might end up going?

No idea. I haven't talked it him. We all want him back. Of course, I want him back -- he's my centerman. He definitely helped. He brought my game to the next level.

Who has the better mascot: Ohio State University, where you played NCAA hockey, or the Vancouver Canucks?

Huh ... a nut or a whale? I'm going to have to go with the Canucks. Buckeye just doesn't do it for me. [Laughs]

That's going to cause some strife.

Oh, no, it is. As soon as I get back home, probably.

Having grown up in Michigan, will you publically admit to being a Detroit Lions fan?

Yeah, yeah. I mean, they're no good, but hopefully this quarterback is all he's cracked up to be.

On to the Olympics and potentially playing for Team USA. What do you think our chances are next year in Vancouver?

Ah, we're the darkhorse. I think we've got some good young talent, we've got some veteran guys, and I think it's going to be a good mixture. It's a group that'll work extremely hard.

Will you now do the Mark Messier thing and guarantee to our readers that the United States will medal?

[Laughs] Yeah, OK: I think the United States will medal. I'll guarantee that.

Awesome. And beyond that, will you also guarantee that we'll beat the Canadians?

I guarantee that we'll beat the Canadians.

We appreciate your moxie, Mr. Kesler.

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