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DEATH VALLEY… There is nothing quite like the camaraderie of being around a bunch of hockey guys. Most have a well developed sense of humor, some a little twisted, but funny nonetheless. This week Mr. Phil Kessel just wrested the Heavyweight Troll Champion of the World title away from whoever in the heck had it before and did so in fine fashion. Kessel is enjoying his second consecutive Stanley Cup Championship with the Pittsburgh Penguins. And as the tradition is now, Kessel recently had his off-season day with the Cup. But first some background.
Phil “The Thrill” as he is known, hails from Madison, was a formidable youth player, and then put in a season with the Minnesota Gophers. He was drafted by the Boston Bruins, and left the Gopher program to join them after his freshman year. I was never sure if he was a good fit for the Bruins playing style but he gave it a go. On his 3 year entry level contract, the first two years were somewhat indifferent, but in his third season with the club he amassed 60 points on 36G and 24A. The Bruins decided they were looking for a lot more from Kessel and moved him to Toronto. Now, how could one describe being in the center of the hockey universe, and in Canada? There’s the fans, and then there is the media. If you are a Leafs player you probably can’t fart in an open air park without it making the news. This team literally has about 30 reporters covering it on a daily basis.
On top of that the Leafs were basically a hot mess at the time Kessel found his way upon their roster. From team management, to coaching, to the roster, this club was an exercise in futility. The strange part in all of this is that this club is financially set for like the next 500 or so years. At any rate, Phil came on board and got to work. In his 6 seasons with the Leafs Kessel tallied 181G and 240A for 421 points in 446 regular season tilts. That’s a point per game territory and that’s fairly impressive. On the other side of the coin, for whatever reasons you want to insert here, Kessel also became a whipping boy of sorts for the Leafs press corps. He didn’t help his cause when he came to the aid of another Leafs media player/target and spoke out on the matter. Neither is Phil a warm and fuzzy, I’ll give you a quote a day kind of a guy either. Lets say that he had not been media savvy before he got to the Steel City.
So, I don’t know all of the exact details of how this story came about, but it was eventually decided by the Leaf media that Kessel wasn’t in that great of shape, one summer when he went to Italy for a vacation they bemoaned the thought that he must not be working out and that surely must be the reason the Leafs haven’t won a Cup in a thousand years. And then finally, the theory emerged that Kessel was loading up on Hot Dogs and that he was nutritionally deficient and you can take it from there. Now for me, I’m kind of laughing and shaking my head at the same time. Geez, sure, Phil doesn’t invoke thoughts of Charles Atlas or even Jack Lalanne physique-wise, on the other hand, most conditioning experts state that hockey is the ultimate in cardio sports. So he must be in some kind of condition wouldn’t you think? Not the Leafs press corps.
Believe it or not, this story got traction and continued forth. Eventually stuff fell apart in Toronto for Phil, and when a regime change took place they decided to get some salary cap relief for themselves by trading Kessel to the Pens and the rest is hockey history. Phil got some relief there as well. With Sid Crosby and Geno Malkin in Pitt, Kessel could become a part of the woodwork and just play hockey. He was no longer a media centerpiece. There was the usual tinkering around to see what line combos worked best for the team and for Phil, but things have mostly worked out. Two seasons, two Cups. And a relaxed, even humorous Kessel has emerged in Pitt. The fans and the team have accepted him and have given him their affection.
So, fast forward to this summers day with the Cup and when I saw this, lets say a huge smile and a few belly laughs came forth. It’s Phil at a golf course, somewhere near Madison I’m guessing and he has the Cup on a green next to him, he is holding a Hot Dog and the Cup part of the Greatest Trophy in the World is filled with the tubular steaks!!! Take that Toronto Media!!! (Kessel in his best Tony Montana) Look at choo now! You no look so good! Troll-a-rama, mic drop, exit the stage! This is nothing short of fantastic! Yeah man! You go Phil, good on ya….
LAST WEEK I WROTE OF the passing of hockey legend Herbie Brooks. Sadly that wasn’t the only tragedy I would have to deal with that week. I would be remiss if I did not mention that close friend and former pro wrestler Lou Sjoberg passed away on the Friday eve of that week, a scant few days after Brooks passed. Lou was in his early eighties and was battling diabetes. He had it to the point that he was insulin dependent. After wrestling and working in another endeavor, Lou started the famous Lou’s Smoked Fish Shop in Two Harbors. His store had the most iconic neon sign on the North Shore as far as I am concerned. Before I lived there it was to me, the official point of being back on “The Shore”.
I had once tried to do some business with Lou in a former career but with no luck. However, I was surprised about a year later when he called out of the blue one day and asked for a quote on an item he needed. We made a deal and in time, he became one of my best friends on the Shore. He and his wife Jo also became great friends to my kids Chel and William. I got to hear some great old time wrestling stories from the former “Karl Von Shober” and Lou would fake grimace in pain when the 4 year old Billy would put holds on him. We would spend evenings talking business ideas until Jo couldn’t take it anymore! He went to that Big Ring in the sky on this day in 2003. Love and miss you Big Guy… PEACE