Monday, July 13, 2009

The Other Kessel Brother

Blake Kessel: Learning Hockey Professionalism at UNH.

I wanted to do this interview with Blake Kessel in October when I was in New Hampshire and caught the home opener for UNH. It didn’t happen. However, I watched him play along with several other NHL draftees on his team. It was a great game and a wonderful venue to see a hockey game. If you can get to a college hockey game, I suggest you do so. They are a world of fun.

On Saturday, when I stopped Blake to speak with him I said I wanted to talk to him about his experience at UNH, I think he was a little surprised. Maybe he didn't expect me to lead with that line of questioning.

“UNH? Perfect! I know that school.” His face lit up and you can immediately see the Kessel family resemblance.

“School’s going pretty good so far. I passed all my classes so that’s a positive.” Okay, that does do a mother's heart proud, no matter how big the kid is.

I asked him how difficult it was to balance school and his hockey schedule, “It’s tough at first in freshman year. You gotta get used to it. We have academic meetings with one of our helpers with our sports program. She does a great job with everything. She keeps on top of it. Just having her during our freshman year helps keeps us on track.”

UNH has a large, vocal fan base with some of the best chants I have ever heard. “Oh, they’re awesome! You have to come during a ‘white out’ game.” That would be a home game against Maine, their rival to the East by all of about a half hour. “The first Maine game at home is crazy. It is sold out every time. It’s a lot of fun.”

At the game I attended against the Badgers of Wisc., my daughter asked me why the boys who weren’t playing were sitting in the stands in suits and ties. So I asked Blake to explain. “Yep. Everything is professional Every where you go, you can see it at every college. It’s professional. We even travel in suits on buses. It’s the professional nature of it. You have to play the part. You have to be responsible for everything you do. You present yourself well every time you go out.” Considering some of the rules of the NHLPA, this is marvelous training.

As there are so many draftees on his Wild Cats team, I asked Blake if he stayed in contact with his teammates over the summer to see how their development camps were going.

“Definitely a little bit. You always talk to all the guys. You usually get sick of ‘em the whole year. Then you take a week off and realize, I kinda miss these guys. But I call them.”

The Washington Capitals drafted his friend Greg Burke, but there are others that he will call too just to check up to see how they did at camp. It might be good to know how others differ from the Islanders’ camp.

Blake attended last year’s prospect camp so I asked what he felt the difference was so far. “It’s a bit different. We scrimmaged a bit more last year. It is a little bit of a change over with a new coach. But I like the way the practices are going so far. They’re more up-tempo, more game situations. Working on game type situations has really been helpful. You get to know something that you get to take back to your team and work on throughout the whole year.”

Considering the circumstances under which mini-camp was held last season, I was happy to hear him say how well this year’s camp is being run. The communication has greatly improved and things are running like clockwork.

After camp, Blake will continue to train over the summer at home with his trainer (who is probably his brother’s trainer as well.) He will skate with friends to get his speed up and be ready to start the season a little stronger, a little wiser and a little older.

After watching him at the scrimmage, I can see an improvement since October '08. Maybe Garth Snow was right when he said, “We got the better Kessel.” after he drafted him in the sixth round of the 2007 NHL Entry draft.

I’ll say this… we definitely got the better looking Kessel.

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