OTTAWA – It’s not often Team USA forward Amanda Kessel resists the temptation to rib her brother, Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but this time she stopped herself from rubbing it in.
It was early February when Phil ended a 10-game goalless slump for the Maple Leafs and by that time, his younger sister was well on her way to a historic season with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Amanda Kessel finished the 2012-13 season with 46 goals and 55 assists to help the Gophers to a 41-0-0 record. She won the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award as player of the year in the U.S. college ranks and capped her campaign as one of the top female players on the planet with a NCAA championship title last week.
She’s kept tabs on how her brother has fared with the Maple Leafs. But when she saw how he was struggling to put the puck in the net, she backed off on teasing him until Phil Kessel finally scored in a game against the Winnipeg Jets.
"I was telling someone he was watching me. Ha, I am just kidding,’’ joked Amanda during a break at the world women’s hockey championship.
There is no doubt the Kessels are close.
"Whenever I am in a slump or I am not playing well, we shoot texts back and forth and he tells me you just have to keep going," she said. "He is someone who when something is not going well for me, he is there. He has had his fair share of coaches and media not on his side so he is someone good to go to.’’
Amanda Kessel is four years younger than her 25-year-old brother. They share a passion for hockey and a passion for all things competitive. They recently had a family table-tennis championship that she proudly won.
"He is an awesome player and my favorite player to watch and someone I look up to,’’ she said.
There are similarities to their style of play. Like her brother, Amanda is offensively gifted and she is a player opponents have to keep an eye out for when she is on the ice.
"I have been told we have a similar skating stride so I am happy to hear compliments like that,’’ said Amanda. "I think we both kind of stickhandle and see the ice the same way. I like to pass the puck a little bit more and he likes to shoot more. I do not have that shot obviously."
USA head coach Katey Stone said Kessel’s continued improvement this season came from an increased off-ice commitment, and from taking better care of herself.
"She just took her game to another level,’’ said Stone. "She came into winter camp and just put on a display. She is just growing her game."
"I just stayed more consistent and that is something I have been working on,’’ added Kessel. "You just can’t show up one day and be there the next and that is something I have been working on."
Kessel had a goal and an assist in the USA’s 4-2 win over Finland on Wednesday and now has three points in two games. She had an assist in a 3-2 shootout loss to Canada on Tuesday.
She had three goals and 10 points in her first world women’s tournament last year in Vermont. Canada won gold with a 5-4 overtime win over the USA after losing to the Americans 9-2 in the preliminary round.
Canada, meanwhile, won its second straight game, beating Switzerland 13-0. With veterans Hayley Wickenheiser and Caroline Ouellette sidelined with injuries, Marie-Philip Poulin scored four times to pace the Canuck attack.
In other games, Russia won its second game, beating the Czech Republic 3-1, while Sweden needed overtime to beat Germany 3-2.
Kessel knows all about the Battle of Ontario between the Maple Leafs and the Ottawa Senators. She knows her brother isn’t what you call popular in the national capital city, and she would like nothing more than to have fans here remember how she helped the USA win the world title on Canadian soil.
"I guess I would not mind being unpopular if our team won,’’ she said.
And if they do, you know the hockey-playing Kessels will be in touch.