• Mike Brophy

    Mike Brophy

    About Mike Brophy

    Mike Brophy brings a wealth of hockey writing and broadcasting experience to CBC Sports, having covered junior hockey for 14 years before joining The Hockey News as its senior writer for 17 years starting in 1992.


Mike Brophy - Monday Feb. 10, 2014 18:20

Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk give Team USA instant chemistry

Leafs' duo enter Olympics on hot streak

Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk developed into stars with the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

There was a time, not so long ago, when it was all about "the line."

Teams depended heavily on a trio of forwards to lead them and those lines had cool names. There was Detroit’s Production Line of Gordie Howe, Sid Abel and Ted Lindsay. The French Connection in Buffalo featured Gil Perreault, Richard Martin and Rene Robert. One of the most famous was the Los Angeles Kings’ Triple Crown Line with Marcel Dionne, Charlie Simmer and Dave Taylor. And who can forget Philadelphia’s Legion Of Doom with Eric Lindros, Mikael Renberg and John Leclair?

Nowadays, it’s all about duos. Coaches like to have the flexibility of altering their lines from game to game and quite often during games.

So while Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz are a fixture in Pittsburgh just as Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are in Anaheim, the third member of their respective lines change on occasion. In fact, those four players are expected to remain effective duos while playing for Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

One of the best young duos in the NHL is Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk of the Toronto Maple Leafs and they will play for Team USA in Sochi.

As the NHL takes a break in its schedule to accommodate the Olympic hockey tournament, Kessel sits fourth in league scoring with 31 goals and 65 points in 60 games.

Van Riemsdyk, meanwhile, is 32nd in league scoring having established single-season highs in goals (24), assists (23) and points (47) in 58 games.

The expectation is Kessel and van Riemsdyk will play together on one of Team USA’s top two scoring lines. In fact if they don’t play together, it would be ludicrous.

“I haven’t heard if we’re going to play together over there,” Kessel said, “but James has had a good year here and hopefully we can both go over there and help our team win.”

Added van Riemsdyk: “If we do get a chance to play together, it will be great. Sometimes, for whatever reason, when you put two players together, it doesn’t mesh as well as you’d like it to, but in our case, we have played together for a long time and we have that continuity so we can bring out the best in each other and make each other even better players. I enjoy playing with Phil and I think he definitely brings out the best in my game. It’s playing with him.”

Strong skaters 

Kessel and van Riemsdyk are both excellent skaters and Kessel, in particular, should be able to take advantage of the larger ice surface in Russia with his explosive speed. If he gets a step to the outside on a defender, he will be awfully difficult to stop.

Kessel said he can’t remember the last time he played on the large ice surface, but van Riemsdyk thinks it will be to their advantage.

“We have both played a lot of international hockey during the course of our careers,” he said. “Plus we both played on two of the biggest sheets (of ice) in college at the University of New Hampshire and Minnesota. I think we’re both accustomed to playing on the big rink so it will be exciting.”

While Kessel is known as one of the best shooters in the NHL – his snap shot is downright deadly – he can also dish effectively. Again, the big ice will play nicely into his hands.

“Obviously there’s going to be more room out there to make plays,” Kessel said. “I think guys will adjust as the tournament progresses. Guys won’t be as close to you.”

Kessel played in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, but statistically speaking didn’t have a great event. He had a goal and two points in six games. That said, the United States came to within one goal of winning the gold medal, losing 3-2 in overtime to Canada.

Leafs could play key role for Team USA 

Kessel hopes he plays a bigger role on the team in Sochi.

“Hopefully I will,” Kessel said. “Obviously you always want to have a big role on the team and hopefully I can do whatever I can to help the team win.”

Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf was at Team Canada’s orientation camp last summer, but was not named to the final roster. He does, however, belief his Toronto teammates can do some damage in Sochi.

“They are top-two chemistry guys in the league,” Phaneuf said. “Obviously JVR and Phil are two big parts of their line on the wings; they can really skate.”
There has been plenty of excitement leading up to the 2014 Winter Olympics and now that they are here, but van Riemsdyk and Kessel are pumped.

“It’s a huge thrill on this stage,” van Riemsdyk said. “One of the highest levels of sports you can play at is the Olympics so it is a huge thrill and to be with a guy I play with day in and day out should be fun.”

“It’s a real neat experience whenever you get a chance to represent your country and I love playing for my country,” added Kessel.

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