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Looking for good storylines for the U.S. Olympic team? Look no further than ... Canada?
That's right. Go deep in the heart of enemy hockey territory and you'll find two of Team USA's best Sochi hopes -- Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk.
By birth they're American. By trade, they're Toronto Maple Leafs. And they're plying their trade quite well these days.
Kessel, a Michigan native and former Boston Bruin, was named the NHL's Second Star for this past week thanks in part to a hat trick against Anaheim. His impressive week on the score sheet has propelled him into a three-way tie for second in the NHL in scoring this season. His 18 points (nine goals) in 14 games equals the totals of Steven Stamkos and Henrik Sedin. Kessel is just three points off the pace of league leader Sidney Crosby.
What has Kessel improved upon this season? His coach thinks it's his willingness to do the dirty work.
"That's what has to happen," Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle told the CBC. "Goals aren't easy to score in the NHL with good goaltending and good defensive teams. Goal-scorers have to try to find a way to maybe get a little dirtier and he's doing that."
Meanwhile, van Riemsdyk has always been one of those stick-your-nose-where-it-shouldn't-be type of players. This year the New Jersey native is benefiting from Kessel's improved play. But he's also been building chemistry by playing on Kessel's wing on Toronto's first line. He's racked up 13 points (seven goals) in 12 games, good enough to rank in the top 15 in the league.
Kessel and van Riemsdyk should be major factors for Team USA in Sochi, and it's a good sign that they're finding the aforementioned chemistry by lining up beside each other on a nightly basis.
Team chemistry is huge in international tournaments where players are plucked from other rosters and told to become a living, breathing unit. Kessel's familiarity with his fellow linemate could be a big plus. It's a similar situation to the one Team Canada has in Pittsburgh, with Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis on the Penguins' top line. It's far from a sure bet that Kunitz and Dupuis make Team Canada, but their comfort level with Crosby could go a long way.
Crosby and Costas
Speaking of Crosby, NBC Sports Network's Bob Costas went one-on-one with Sid the Kid Tuesday night. Crosby spent a good portion of the interview deflecting questions about how great he is and how he has changed the game of hockey. But buried in there were a few Olympics-related nuggets worth sharing.
Costas asked Crosby about his overtime goal against Team USA in 2010 Vancouver Games to clinch gold medal, and in true Crosby style his answer was dry: "Scoring an overtime-winning goal in your own country, playing for Canada, a country that’s so passionate about hockey -- it’s pretty special ... playing for Canada, we always know that expectations are high. But being in Canada, in the Winter Olympics, we knew we had to find a way."
Costas also asked Crosby about Russia's LGBT laws and how they could impact the Sochi Olympics. Once again, Crosby was on point with his answer.
"Growing up in Canada, that’s something I never even really thought about or discussed -– it didn’t matter," Crosby said. "Anyone had the opportunity to play a sport, and to go through that was something that was a learning experience for me. I never even thought that’s something that would come up."