Monday, February 18, 2008

A nice article from the Province about Kes and his Dad:

Kesler and dad make a good team
They're always there for each other, especially this week as fathers join Canucks

Ben Kuzma, The Province
Published: Monday, February 18, 2008

Last spring, Mike Kesler lost a portion of his small intestine to cancer. Last fall, he lost his job of 37 years with a medical services company mired in Detroit's major economic recession.

This week, the father of Vancouver Canucks centre Ryan Kesler -- and a hockey coach for 34 years -- has won what he considers the trip of a lifetime. He'll join 18 other Canucks players' dads today on the team charter for games in Minnesota on Tuesday and Nashville on Thursday.

"It's going to be a great opportunity and it's going to bring back some real good memories," he said.

"I remember one summer when Ryan was 12 or 13 and played on an all-star team in Toronto. Fifty-per-cent were from the Detroit area and they had Rick Nash on his team and Ryan played against Jason Spezza. We made a lot of those trips together, stayed in the same room and haven't done anything like that in years."

These days, father, 60, and son, 23, converse regularly. They talk after every game and the bond is obviously stronger with what Mike has endured as a cancer survivor and Ryan as an emerging Canuck.

Before his father underwent surgery last April, Kesler thought his own world had crumbled. After recovering from hip surgery, the centre excelled in the opening game of the Dallas playoff series. He also broke a finger that night and when X-rays confirmed the worst, he was more stunned by a call from his mother, Linda, back home in Livonia, Mich.

He knew his dad needed surgery, but was floored when cancer was discovered.

"Breaking my finger was a blessing in disguise," recalled Ryan. "It enabled me to go home and spend time with him -- even though he told me that he didn't want me to come and be with my teammates and support them. When I got there, he was overjoyed to see me."

Mike had 18 centimetres of his small intestine removed. He had a scan in September and another of his stomach area in January showed no return of cancer. He has another test in July.

"My health is really good right now," Mike Kesler said. "But I had a restriction for four months and the most I could lift was 20 pounds and that was really scary."

It also forced him to slow down.

A non-stop dynamo, Kesler now scouts for the U.S. national team, NHL agent Kurt Overhardt and has coached a high school all-star league. He also coached NHL players Chris Connor (Dallas), Tim Gleason (Carolina), Jim Slater (Atlanta) and T.J. Hensick (Colorado) as well as about 200 kids who advanced to Division 1 college.

In one eight-year span, Kesler coached two teams in the same season. But he only guided Ryan for one year as a head coach because he doesn't favour the coach-son dynamic.

Now he vows to take up woodworking, get better at golf and ease up on those critiques of his son.

"What [the cancer] makes you do is get off the merry-go-round of life," he said, joking that it's easier with a four-year severance settlement from his job. "Working on a Saturday, working long hours and trying to get home to cut the lawn before the sun goes down -- you're pushing to get everything done and it just seemed like there weren't enough hours in the day.

"Now I'm still driven, but I get off the merry-go-round a lot more."

As expected, Kesler watches all Canuck games on television and awaits a call from his son that may not come until 1 a.m. EST. And when Ryan calls, is Mike more father or coach? After all, he was also a forward at Colorado College.

"He knows that I won't pull any punches," said Mike. "With time and age, I've tempered it a bit."

"He stressed perfection," Ryan said. "He was probably the hardest on me and I didn't understand it at the time. But now, you look back and understand why; he had to be."

As a five-year-old, Ryan scored in his first game and saw a rapid rise through the Detroit minor hockey system, under-18 national program and Ohio State.

"I love the way he's matured and has a better appreciation of the fans," said Mike. "He didn't want to be bothered when we were there [visiting] and I said you can never forget them -- they support you and help pay the bills.

"He's genuinely taken that and he's become well spoken. But the best part of his game is he comes to play with intensity, passion and a real love for the game."

Just like dad.

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