But, today was different. Today, I woke up with a smile on my face. It wasn’t because next season is that much closer, or because I can finally forget about hockey for a few months, it was because I got to see Phil “The Thrill” Kessel hoist the Stanley Cup.
In fact, I saw it over and over. I stopped counting after the 15th time I watched the video of Kessel lifting the Cup. What a fitting end to, what was, the Phil Kessel in Toronto saga.
After the media ripped on Phil for the better of 7 seasons, Phil was traded from Toronto to Pittsburgh, and the media all got to laugh about how hotdog-eating, non backchecking, lazy, fat, overpaid Phil Kessel was discarded from the Maple Leafs organization.
In the end, Phil got the last laugh. The trade worked out perfectly for both teams. Toronto got to start over with a fresh slate, and Pittsburgh got a goal scorer they badly needed.
At first it looked like Phil wouldn’t fit. He struggled playing on a line with Crosby and Malkin, but later on, found his home alongside Nick Bonino and Carl Hagelin. I will give the media some credit. Phil is a much more complete player now, then he ever was in Toronto. He began playing a lot more defense, skated back when he had to, and even started to body check. I never thought I’d see the day.
I believe Phil was able to improve because he had leaders like Crosby and Malkin to, not only take the pressure off him, but to instill a level of effort and teamwork he had never experienced before, and boy, did it ever pay off. I could swear Phil had the loudest and most excited celebration lifting that cup.
Take notes Maple Leafs. Pittsburgh is an example of how an organization can flourish when you place pieces in their correct slot. For far too long, the Maple Leafs were trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole. Phil was never meant to be a leader on that Maple Leafs team. Phil was under a lot of pressure to perform, and contrary to what some critics think, he did perform. Kessel consistently put up 30 goal seasons for the Leafs and stole us many games in the process. He is the definition of a role player and that is how Pittsburgh used him.
Pay back can be sweet, and I can’t help but smile when I think about, how the awkward, kindred, Phil Kessel can now add Stanley Cup winner to his list of achievements. I just wish it was in a Leafs sweater.