It isn’t always easy being in the AHL while your older brother is a rising star one rung higher in the NHL.
Blake Kessel knows. He knows because he hears about his sibling, Toronto Maple Leafs sniper Phil Kessel, on many nights while patrolling the blueline for the Adirondack Phantoms in the minors.
And it’s not often positive.
“I get the typical ‘oh you’re never going to be your brother,’” Blake Kessel said in a recent interview. “I get ‘you’re only here because of your brother’ and stuff like that.
“It’s something you learn to live with. Let it roll off your back. I’m proud of my brother so it doesn’t really affect me. There’s always some good ones that I get to laugh at though.”
While Phil is quiet and often reluctant to open up with the media, his younger brother is a bit different and quite personable. Only a year and a half apart in age (24 and 22), the two are very close and spend most of the off-season together.
So as part of a feature we did on Phil Kessel a couple weeks ago, I chatted with his younger brother, Blake, at length. Because a lot of our conversation didn’t end up in the story, I wanted to post some of it here.
So here’s an in-depth Q&A with Blake Kessel, as he offers some insight into his well-known big brother and what it was like growing up together in Madison, Wis.:
How would you describe Phil away from hockey, the side of him that fans and media never see? What’s it like, in other words, having Phil Kessel as a big brother?
He’s been great to me. He honestly has done everything for me, in any way that he can. He’s always there for me, whether I have a bad couple of games or something like that. He reaches out to me when I’m down; I can always count on him to call. For a big brother, he’s basically the best I could have asked for.
In the summer it’s great because we get to spend a lot of time together. Him, myself and our little sister – we see each other a lot, which we don’t get to obviously a lot during the year. It’s pretty special.
What’s a summer in Madison like for the Kessels?
We hang out. We just do our workouts in the morning, just the three of us, and we just go golfing or skating or something pretty normal. We go see movies whenever they come out. We’re pretty normal people.
It sounds like you and Phil are pretty close.
We do spend most of our time together. He has his friends from hockey and everything like that, but for both of us, it’s like, we moved away [at a young age] He did in his freshman year of high school to play with the U.S. team and I was gone and travelling every weekend and stuff like that. So we really kind of spend a lot of time together [in the summer]and hang out and do normal things as a family.
You mentioned golf. A few of Phil’s teammates told me that he’s a great golfer. John-Michael Liles said they chirp each other about their scores and Colby Armstrong said Phil won’t let him play with him anymore because he’s not very good. So what kind of a handicap does he have?
He’s getting down there. I think he’s around a seven. I think he’s trending down, but you never know. I haven’t played with him since the summer. It’s pretty interesting out on the golf course when we get out there.
I’m not quite that good. But we like to play and get the matchup going once in a while, with Dad, Mom and the little sister. It gets competitive out there.
You guys have a pretty athletic family -- both your parents were college athletes, your sister is considered one of the up-and-coming American female players, and then there’s you and Phil. That must have been interesting growing up.
We basically played everything. We latched onto hockey obviously and that was our main one, but we played baseball in Little League and tennis, golf, all that kind of stuff. We used to go to all different sporting events. It’s pretty special to have parents like we have, giving their time to take us to different stuff.
Another thing the Leafs players all say Phil’s really good at is ping-pong, that he’s the dressing room champ. Where’s that come from?
We actually have a ping-pong table down in the basement that we play with in the summer. He’s got those quick hands – so he’s pretty good at that. It gets competitive down there, too. Usually it’s him versus his sister – I’m okay but not quite to their level. Those two get pretty intense down there.