Kessel lets his play do the talking for USA at Olympics

Team USA's Phil Kessel (right) is congratulated by teammate Ryan Kesler after scoring a goal...

Team USA's Phil Kessel (right) is congratulated by teammate Ryan Kesler after scoring a goal against Czech Republic during their men's quarterfinal hockey game at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games, Feb. 19, 2014. (GRIGORY DUKOR/Reuters)

Rob Longley, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:52 PM ET

SOCHI, RUSSIA - He may be Phil the Thrill on the ice, but Team USA's leading scorer, Phil Kessel, hasn't exactly been a motivational machine off of it.

That comes as no surprise to those who deal with him in Toronto, where Kessel was on fire heading into the Olympic break.

That he has scored five goals in four Olympic games so far is a big reason the U.S. has cruised through to the semifinal meeting with Canada on Friday night. And his teammates will gladly take action over animation.

"He's probably got more points than words he has said in the locker room," American forward David Backes said on Thursday. "He's quiet, but he can play the game.

"He's a natural goal scorer who seems to be in the right place at the right time. The puck finds him and guys like that you love having on your team."

Paired with Toronto teammate James van Riemsdyk and San Jose Sharks centre, Joe Pavelski, the top American line will be a good test for the Canadian defence. Through four games -- three of them played by starting goaltender Carey Price -- the Canadians have allowed just three goals.

Stopping the high-flying American trio will be a tougher task, however. Pavelski has been an easy fit from the start while the big body of van Riemsdyk has been as useful as it has during an NHL season in which he's already surpassed his career high in goals.

"It's been good for me," van Riemsdyk said of the larger ice surface after a late Thursday afternoon practice. "It leaves you a little more room to make some plays on the rush. Obviously you have to be able to skate and I think that's been one of the strengths of my games."

Another is making room for Kessel on the bigger ice, a surface he has flourished on while Canadian scorers have been stymied throughout.

"He is on this team for that reason," U.S. teammate Ryan McDonagh said. "He's one of the fastest skaters for sure and has a quick release on his shot. The chemistry he has with van Riemsdyk has been a plus.

"We're trying to put him in situations that play to his strengths and feed him the puck when he's got the feel going."

A man of few words and many goals would continue to work just fine for the 2010 silver medallists.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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