It’s exhibition game night of a tournament that’s made to sell the game around the world, trying to shine lights on the National Hockey League and its products. It’s a marketing opportunity for Gary Bettman‘s league to sell more jerseys, television time, and to ensure that the league is in the news for the right reasons, while garnishing the revenue line. While you have the best players in the world competing for the World Cup of hockey, it’s early, even before training camp and already, you play a high level game… for fun.
Someone should have told that to John Tortorella and to the US team, particularly to Ryan Kesler, as the Americans were playing as if it was game seven of the Winter Olympics, although dirtier, trying to run the Canadians at every opportunity, whether it was clean or not. To further prove this, Tortorella called out Montreal Canadiens’ captain Max Pacioretty whom he felt wasn’t showing enough effort to his liking… after a couple of exhibition games in September!
Team Canada, on the other hand, was slowly getting into game shape, working on building chemistry and perfecting head coach Mike Babcock‘s system. But how quickly things changed! In the first game of a back-t0-back between the two rivals, Kesler was issued a five minutes penalty for drilling Canada’s top defenseman Shea Weber from behind into the boards behind Carey Price‘s net. While Weber saw him coming, he was far from expecting Kesler to finish his check considering the game and the fact that he was showing him his number, while in a rather vulnerable position. You be the judge:
Luckly for him, Kesler found himself in the arms of Jonathan Toews, who came to defend his teammate, as Weber was heading straight for him to teach him a hard learned lesson! That would have been fun to watch, although Kesler wouldn’t have liked it quite as much as we would have…
Seeing how chippy and dirty the first game was, Babcock chose to sit team captain Sidney Crosby for game two and rightfully so. However, it became apparent very quickly that Kesler was not only a target for Team Canada, but he had awoken the beast in them! First, revenge came from a very unlikely source as New York Islanders’ star player John Tavares, not known for his physical play, took out Kesler in the Americans’ corner very early in the game, to set the tone.
Tavares was going in that corner with one purpose, and he knew that number 17 was there, make no mistakes. I’m not so sure that he would have done that had it been anyone else getting that puck but Kesler felt that one and he must have known then that it would be a long game for him.
Later in that same game, the San Jose Sharks were involved in the retaliation as Kesler was racing for the puck with Brent Burns after his shot was blocked. In a close foot race, Kesler played the puck but what he wasn’t expecting was for Joe Thornton, also not known for his physical play, used his 6-foot 4-inches frame and 220 lbs to propel Kesler flying into the boards, not even concerned about playing the puck.
Kesler also felt that one and while Big Joe was issued a minor penalty for his trouble, but no one on the Canadian bench was upset about the penalty, particularly not Weber and Babcock. And imagine… Kesler has yet to hear back from Weber himself, from his 6-foot 4-inches and 236 lbs!
The way Team Canada responded to Kesler’s dirty hit in the first exhibition game, particularly the combination of hits by the two JT (John Tavares and Joe Thornton), two players not known for their physical play, might serve as a turning point for this team, particularly against Tortorella and the Americans.
Remember that it’s the Nashville Predators who, in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs last Spring, shocked the hockey world by defeating Kesler’s Anaheim Ducks and knocking them out early on… with Weber being a huge reason for that happening.
Mark your calendars folks as the Canadiens will be facing the Ducks twice this season, the first time being on November 29th, in Anaheim, then again at the Bell Centre on December 20th.