Add Phil Kessel to the list of NHL players who will be leaving their families at home come the Olympics.
The Toronto Maple Leafs sniper talked about the Games on Wednesday, and while he is excited to represent the United States for a second time, the potentially dangerous state of affairs in Russia is also on his mind.
Kessel will be in a unique situation given his younger sister, Amanda, will also be in Sochi to play for the U.S. women’s hockey team, but they won’t be joined by any other members of the Madison, Wis., based Kessel clan.
“I’m a little nervous obviously about that,” Kessel said. “But I trust that they have it pretty well handled, and we’ll see how it goes. I’m not bringing anyone from my family. I just thought it was better this way.”
One of the key concerns has been the potential for suicide bombers, something Russian security officials have been investigating even as the opening ceremony is only a week away.
The Sochi Games is expected to have the biggest security operation ever, and the NHL has protocol in place to pull its players out of the area should a terrorist attack happen before or during the Olympics.
Despite his concerns, Kessel said his participation has never been in doubt.
“It’s a big honour playing for your country,” he said. “All the guys love to do that. It’s a real neat experience… obviously it’s a big stage, the Olympics, and guys want to play. I think the Russian government is going to do great job over there. But who knows, right? You hear stories about stuff going on.”
Kessel was a bit part on the 2010 team that won silver in Vancouver, averaging under 12 minutes a game and contributing a goal and an assist in six games. There are 13 players returning from that team, too, including nine of the 14 forwards, so there will be some familiarity.
Unlike four years ago, however, Kessel is one of the elite offensive players in the NHL, with more goals than any other American this season save for Joe Pavelski and more points than anyone on the team except Patrick Kane.
As improved as the U.S. roster is on paper from two or three Games ago, it’s not overly high on game breaking forwards, which is exactly what Kessel brings to the table and why it’s expected he’ll be central to their success. His speed should also be a real asset on the big ice surface, and it helps that linemate James van Riemsdyk, who has emerged as a 30-goal threat, will be on the team.
Kessel hopes that all adds up to him playing a much bigger part in whatever success the team has in Sochi.
“You always want to have a big role on the team,” he said. “And I’ll do whatever I can to help the team win.”