By Steve Silverman
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She shares the last name of one of the NHL’s most famous goal scorers, and like her famous brother, Phil Kessel of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Amanda Kessel has a gift for both skating and putting the puck in the net.
The 26-year-old younger sister of the two-time Stanley Cup champion is about to embark on the most significant mission of her career as a forward on the United States Olympic women’s hockey team. Kessel and her teammates are charged with representing the country and hopefully bringing home the gold medal.
The countdown is on, and although the United States and Canada have to go through the preliminaries to get to the medal round, both sides know in their hearts and minds that one of them will be wearing gold. The U.S. and Canada will first meet Feb. 15 in the preliminary round.
“We have a lot of work to do before we get there, but in the back of our minds — in the back of everyone’s minds — it is going to come down to the United States vs. Canada,” Kessel, who lives in Jersey City, New Jersey, told WFAN.com. “We know it, they know it, and that’s just the way it has been. We will be ready.”
Canada broke the United States’ hearts at the 2014 Olympics. When the two teams met in the gold-medal game, the U.S. had a 2-0 lead late in the third period. However, just when it seemed like the American women would be victorious, their Canadian counterparts scored two goals to tie it up before wrecking the United States’ dream on a goal by Marie-Philip Poulin in overtime.
It was a brutal loss for everyone associated with the U.S. hockey team. That included Kessel, a key member of that squad.
“We know what happened the last time around, and we don’t need to be reminded of it,” Kessel explained. “It was very painful, and everyone in the locker room feels like we should have won, but the only thing we can do is take care of business this time around. We have to finish our job and do everything better if we want the gold medal.”
Kessel knows a lot about winning. She was a part of the 2013 and 2017 world championship teams, and she also played on three NCAA championship teams at the University of Minnesota.
Kessel suffered more than a loss to Canada in the Sochi Olympics. She was part of a chain-reaction collision that resulted in going head-first into the boards.
The symptoms of that nasty spill didn’t come to the forefront until after the Olympics, when she learned that she suffered a concussion.
Kessel missed the full 2014-15 college season and never felt right that entire year. She started to believe she would never play again as a result of the injury. But she began working out regularly with a heavy emphasis on cardio exercises, and she eventually started to feel much better.
She returned to the Gophers and regained her hockey prowess. She scored 11 goals and six assists and finished with a plus-10 rating for Minnesota in 2015-16.
Once her college career ended, she began playing in the National Women’s Hockey League for the New York Riveters — now known as the Metropolitan Riveters, who are based in Newark and affiliated with the Devils. Last season, she registered six goals and 15 assists in 11 games.
Kessel has been training with the Olympic team this year and has two goals and four assists in 11 international contests.
Once the Olympic tournament begins, Kessel will be expected to generate scoring opportunities and put the puck in the net. If that sounds like her brother, it’s not a surprise. Both play a similar style, and when Amanda goes to the net with a head of steam and a half-step on the defense, she is almost impossible to catch.
“I want to do whatever I can to help the team, and if that’s attacking and scoring goals, that’s what I will try to do,” Kessel said. “But that’s not all there is, and I’ll do everything I can to win.”
That last statement goes right along with her personal philosophy: “The difference between good and great is a little extra effort.”
Kessel has always made that effort as she has developed into one of the top players on the U.S. team. That is almost certain to continue in Pyeongchang, South Korea, when the Winter Olympics get underway this week.
The first U.S. game is Sunday morning (2:40 a.m. Eastern) against Finland. That game can be seen on NBCSN and live-streamed at NBCOlympics.com.
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