U.S. not favourite in semi: Kesler

By PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency



VANCOUVER — Suggest to Ryan Kesler his Team USA is the favourite for Friday’s Olympic hockey semifinal against Finland and you get the Kesler smirk.

There was a suggestion from the Finnish camp that the undefeated Americans should be favoured, a notion Kesler took down like an opposing winger along the corner boards.

“They won silver last Olympics,” Kesler began. “We’re the underdogs again. We’ll always be the underdogs. They’re down-playing it a little bit. They’re actually feeling pressure to do well.

“No one believes we’re going to win. Ask anybody? No one’s going to pick us.”

And that’s just the way Kesler likes it.

This is one time, though, when the underdog won’t capture the hearts of the crowd.

The U.S. has been Pubic Enemy No. 1 here, no matter who they play.

Kesler hasn’t been spared, even though he’s usually adored at GM Place, home of his Vancouver Canucks.

“There hasn’t been much love towards me or towards my team,” he said. “No one really likes us. I expected it. The booing and heckling doesn’t get to me. It’s gotten bad. I expect no different. I expect the majority of fans are going to be rooting on Finland. It’s going to be a fun atmosphere.”

That one of these teams will be playing for gold Sunday has to rank as a surprise. Canada, Sweden and Russia were the pre-tournament picks.

Goaltending has been a huge reason for the Americans’ and Finns’ success, setting up a duel between Ryan Miller of the U.S. and Finland’s Miikka Kiprusoff, the tournament’s top two stoppers. Both boast miniscule goals-against averages of less than 1.40 and save percentages over .940.

“I just have to give my guys a chance to win,” Miller said. “I don’t have to worry about Kipper. He’s going to do his thing, I’m going to try and do my thing.”

While captain Jamie Langenbrunner is the heart and soul of Team USA, the Finns’ emotional leader just might be 39-year-old Teemu Selanne.

“He looks like he’s my age out there,” said American forward Zach Parise, 25.

Selanne says while winning the Stanley Cup remains a hockey player’s biggest challenge, this Olympics is special.

“It means a lot, because I know it’s going to be my last one,” he said. “And obviously a lot of guys will play for the last time together. So it’s very special. But it is always when you play for your own country.”

paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca

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