Phil Kessel: The Most Hated Man in Skates?

It’s Superbowl/Puppybowl Sunday!

Which means that no one is reading hockey posts today.

For that reason, we reach deep into the file cabinet today and present you with a re-post on Phil Kessel. Call me a Sabres traitor if you will, but with cancer survivors Mark Herzlich and Marcus Cannon lining up against each other in the Big Game today, this post fits the day perfectly.

Oh, also, we have breaking news! You likely already know the headline story about the Patriots’ merciless decision to cut Tiquan Underwood just hours before the Superbowl. Not to be outdone by the NFL, Animal Planet has gone an extra step – and has cut Lil’ Tiquan.

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I'm man enough to admit I openly wept when I saw his eyes. Poor lil' guy.

Aaaaaanyway…
From the file cabinet. (Originally Posted on February 7, 2011.)

Most NHL fans know of the trade that sent Phil Kessel from Boston to Toronto.

In Boston, fans already were publicly vilifying him on message boards and Bruins blogs before the trade – but the hate hasn’t stopped since.

 

Don%27t Hate the Game%2C Hate the Player Phil Kessel: The Most Hated Man in Skates?
Fair enough –  the Leafs sent the Bruins a 1st and 2nd round pick in the 2010 draft, plus a 1st round pick in the 2011 draft.  That’s a steep price for a pure goal scorer whose two way game is good enough, but not exactly overwhelming.  Plus, his personality is often described as clumsy, and awkward.

But the hate isn’t necessarily going on just in Toronto.  A Bruins blogger put forth quite an argument to put an end to the booing and hatred of their once prime scoring winger, noting how he was labeled in Bean Town as a “team cancer.

Ouch.

People must have a short memory.  It’s never fair to tell fans to give up their rights to boo and hiss in the direction of a player they feel may have wasted a portion of their season ticket money, but Phil Kessel beat cancer at the age of 19.  In his rookie season.

Those who want to question Kessel’s toughness need to remember how he stood strong and bested one of the most vicious, most terrifying of foes.  Cancer is a life-altering disease – the Big C – which feels like a death sentence when a doctor hands down the news.  It’s the loneliest of battles.  There are no teammates that can help drive it away.

Embryonal testicular cancer.  That is nothing to laugh at.

“My first year in the league I had cancer,” said Kessel. “I got through it pretty easily and I’m healthy now. Obviously, (it was) a tough time in my life but it made me stronger.”

In all, Kessel missed just one month of that rookie season.

With a rookie season like that, consider giving Kessel some credit.  From there, all those draft picks that Toronto gave up put him in a pressure cooker right off the bat – and Toronto is not the kind of town to be kind to its stars on a good day.  Kessel beat the Big C.  He agreed to head into that trade scenario.

How has he responded since?

He had a 30 goal campaign in his 1st year with the Leafs.  This season, year two, he has 19 goals in 52 games.  He was selected for the All Star game, and then was the last player selected in the All Star draft – much to the amusement of the hockey community.

The hockey world erupted with laughter.

He had to put up with a lot of Twitter snark because of that.  And that is already beside the horrific mis-use of the ”team cancer” label, and the other depths that folks will go to berate this man – just check out HF Boards’ thread entitled “Phil Kessel…Ugliest NHL Player?”

NHL fans like to believe their sport carries a certain weight of class with it, that the players and their fans are somehow more traditionally steadfast, and noble, than those from other sports.

Well, in a way, they’re right.  When Kessel was picked last at that fantasy All Star draft, he was awarded a surprise sum of $20,000 for his favorite charity.  The look on Hank Sedin’s face, his head on a swivel, (at the two minute mark) says it all: “we didn’t see this coming.”

Kessel has had a lot of circumstances thrown his way that he never saw coming.  Then again, that is part of what makes an athlete able to compete at such a high level – to be able to be knocked down and get up again, and again, and again and continue to face difficult challenges in the eyes of the public and of one’s peers.  What do you call it?  Oh yea, toughness.

And of that $20k?

The money is heading straight to cancer research, to aid in the goal of someday curing the disease.

Kessel?  He has never asked for anyone to lay off.  He just keeps grinning, at his awkward best, and focuses on scoring goals.

Go Sabres.

And go Puppy Airedale.

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