You know that wind-burning burst of speed that Phil Kessel can turn on when flying up the ice? Whoosh and he’s away.
He’s even faster on dry land.
The Leaf sniper, possibly the most media-averse athlete in professional sports, left a horde of journalists eating his dust after practice on Monday, bolting out of the MasterCard Centre without so much as a backward glance. By the time a reporter raced around the building to attempt ambushing Kessel in the player parking lot, he’d already negotiated the autograph pests and driven off.
See Phil run.
It was left to a member of the club’s PR staff to break the news and cope with the hostile response. “We tried. He declined,’’ said Pat Park.
Phil the Thrill wasn’t talking. The thrill was gone.
I understand bashful. I get shyness. Kessel is clearly agonized every time he’s summoned to face cameras and scribblers in the dressing room — a chore that he’s largely managed to duck this season. Reporters comparing notes estimated PK has endured the ritual on only half a dozen occasions since January.
A posse of Zdeno Chara clones would be less terrifying to Kessel than confronting a phalanx of non-accosting, generally mild-mannered pencil-pushers and microphone-wielders. We’re not the White House press corps. We’re not gotcha paparazzi. And Kessel isn’t a marginal fourth-line forward, though ironically they often provide the best quotes.
The 25-year-old’s discomfort in the off-ice limelight is excruciating. He is very nearly incapable of stringing a sentence together. Well aware of this deficiency, his interlocutors do not expect R.A. Dickey eloquence from the guy. Kessel is a hockey-playing savant and most of the time is left to express himself in his game.
But these are the playoffs, against Boston, and Kessel is very much a critical storyline. Undoubtedly, that whole controversial Boston-to-Toronto trade and his subsequent lame performances against the Bruins is a place Kessel doesn’t wish to go one more time. Dodging, however, is childish, unprofessional and — more to the point — not permitted in the post-season, according to NHL rules, which compel clubs to make their players available upon request unless there are legitimate extenuating circumstances. Those do not include stage fright.