Phil Kessel is a seven-year veteran of the NHL who currently leads the Toronto Maple Leafs in scoring. He's a standout player on his team, but he might not even be the best hockey player in his family.
That honor might just go to 22-year-old Amanda Kessel, Phil's younger sister, who is the star of Team USA's women's hockey team that is gunning for gold in Sochi.
Comparisons aside, together the duo is turning their family name into hockey royalty. They are building their own legacies as they try to lead the men's and women's U.S. hockey teams to gold in these Olympic Games.
The Kessels grew up in a highly competitive family. Be it video games, ping-pong matches or hockey practice, Amanda would always play with Phil and their middle brother Blake. They would never take it easy on her.
But don't let their desire to beat each other fool you—the siblings are very supportive of each other.
Want to wish my sister and the rest of the gopher team good luck today in the national championship.— Phil Kessel (@PKessel81) March 24, 2013
Amanda idolizes Phil, and during the 2012 NHL lockout she told Michael Traikos of the National Post that Phil was spending his free time watching her games. "He doesn’t have anything to do," she said. "His Friday and Saturday nights consist of watching the Gopher women’s hockey team with my other brother."
Most casual hockey fans are more familiar with Phil. The 26-year-old was taken fifth overall in the 2006 NHL draft by the Boston Bruins and traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2009. The right wing is well-respected on and off the ice.
Last year, he led the Toronto Maple Leafs back to the playoffs for the first time in nine years and signed an eight-year deal worth $64 million.
After having only a marginal impact on the U.S. team that won silver in the Vancouver Games, Phil is looking to shine on the international stage by bringing his high-scoring talent to Sochi and helping Team USA get the gold.
Amanda is a forward who plays for the University of Minnesota. In the 2012-13 season, she was the fourth player in NCAA history to reach 100 points in one season and was the nation's leading scorer. She also led Minnesota to the national title and an undefeated season. For her efforts, she won the Patty Kazmaier Award for the top player in women’s college hockey.
The U.S. women's team is widely considered gold-medal favorites in Sochi, and Amanda is thought of by many to be the best player on the team. This is her first Olympics, but she has been a staple on the national team for the past few seasons, even scoring the winning goal in the world championship match against Canada last year.
On Monday, Amanda led the women's U.S. team to an astonishing 9-0 win over Switzerland. She scored two goals—the first one virtually on her own—and had two assists in the rout.
Because men's hockey gets so much more attention than women's hockey throughout the year, Amanda doesn't quite have Phil's star power yet. But if she can lead the U.S. over Canada on the Olympic stage, that could all change.
The Kessel siblings are often compared to one another due to the aggressive way they skate around the ice and their great offensive skills. As reported by CBC.ca's Tony Care, Amanda loves it when she is compared to her brother:
I love that compliment. He’s my favourite player to watch, partly because he’s my brother, but I also think that he’s just awesome. I think we’re very similar in our mannerisms or how we carry ourselves on the ice. A lot of people say that we look exactly alike out there.
Phil doesn't mind the comparisons either. He's always known that his sister was a special talent and is looking forward to seeing what she can do in Sochi, according to CBC.ca's Mike Brophy (via Care):
She’s a great player. She’ll do unbelievable for the women’s Olympic team. She won everything last year. I’ve always known she’s a really good player. I’ve skated with her, she’s special. She’s got a special gift.
Both Kessel siblings will be counted on immensely as their respective teams go for gold. The women's team is aiming to get back to the top of the podium for the first time since 1998. They're the favorites, but it will be tough to get past three-time defending champion Canada.
The men have been overlooked in most medal predictions, but they certainly have the talent and the drive to make a push for the podium.
Four years ago in Vancouver, Amanda was merely a spectator. She watched her brother, who had limited ice time, march through the tournament. She had to leave before the gold-medal match, though, because she had to get back to high school.
This year, she's planning on staying at least through the women's gold-medal match on Feb. 20. Chances are, if the men's team makes it there, she'll stay for the men's gold-medal game on Feb. 23 too.
For the competitive siblings from Wisconsin, nothing less than matching Olympic gold medals will do.