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Friday, February 23, 2018

The Cult of Kessel by @Nick422

As she skated down the ice, down 2-1, on Wednesday night (Thursday morning?) the difference between silver and gold was on her stick.  Amanda Kessel may have felt the pressure but as she fired her wrister glove side, beating Shannon Szabados, to tie the shoot out at 2-2, she showed zero signs of nerves.

While the country was watching around 2am Eastern time, the United States of America's women's hockey team broke the Canadian's streak. The stick of Amanda Kessel was a large reason why. Only two places celebrated more than the rest of the country: Madison, Wisconsin and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Madison may be the home of Amanda and Phil Kessel, but Pittsburgh has become their adopted home. While Amanda Kessel's presence in Pittsburgh has only ever been about supporting his older brother Phil, the two time Stanley Cup Champion and fan favorite winger of the Pittsburgh Penguins, she's been adopted just as much as Phil.

To know the impact of Phil is to know memes. He's become the face of the franchise, one occupied by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and (until recently) Marc-Andre Fleury. Penguins lifers were eclipsed in popularity by a newcomer on his third stop that saw him help contribute, in big ways, to the Penguins back-to-back championships.

It doesn't hurt that his personality seems to shine through on social media, despite his best attempts to hide underneath a gruff exterior. The reality of him seeming to be a hyper competitive teddy bear (one who bristles outside but inside is fun, funny, and oddly goofy) shines through via videos posted by fellow Penguins:

Or by his own musings:

The exterior of Phil seems to match the interior. Built like few professional athletes, who usually border on physical specimens, Phil has near unparalleled skill on a body built like a beer leaguer who still will jog three times a week. "Shleppy" is a term that can be used to describe Phil. It's not entirely inaccurate.

This has led to a level of fandom seldom seen by who was once an outsider. Not a home grown talent, coming to the Penguins seemingly low after stops in Boston and Toronto (where he was driven out by ungrateful media), Phil found his role as the perfect top tier compliment and fan favorite.

Oh and he helped win Two Stanley Cups.

Along for the ride came his sister, The Best Kessel, Amanda. A two time Olympian, Amanda became beloved in Pittsburgh by Kessel Association. A silver medalist in Sochi in 2014, she had three years of Phil in Pittsburgh to become an adopted Pittsburgher. The locals, as proud of her as they are Phil, would buy her a Ahrn and a Primanti's in a heartbeat because she's Amanda Kessel.  She may be the sister of Phil but she's also Olympian, a woman standing on her own accomplishments.

The pride of Amanda runs deep in a city where she'd never had residence, never did much more than visit her brother, and has rarely laced them up. Yet some of the biggest cheers of last year's NWHL All Star Game, in Pittsburgh, came when Amanda Kessel scored a hat trick.

Whether she knew it or not, whether she wanted it or not, by being a Kessel she became an adopted Pittsburgher. Should the NWHL expand to Pittsburgh (as the rumors state), should they acquire Amanda the jerseys would fly off of the shelves.

Winning gold in PyeongChang Amanda, some how, if possible, may have vaulted over brother Phil in popularity. Amanda, against all odds, has become The Best Kessel.

In a city that embraces its athletes, the embrace of the Kessel family may be wholly unique in its history. A search of its history proves few chances for Pittsburgh to bring together an entire family. The Wagner brothers played for the Pirates at the same time. Same goes for the Waners. Alain Lemieux played one game with his brother Mario.

Perhaps never in the history of Pittsburgh sports has a sister elevated over her brother, a brother who can't seem to get any more popular.

The Cult of Kessel is strong in Pittsburgh. We are the city of champions, after all.

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