NHL

Ducks' Ryan Kesler likely will elicit a reaction from Canucks fans

Ducks center Ryan Kesler returns to Vancouver, where he spent the first 10 seasons of his career

Those occupying the middle ground when it comes to former Vancouver Canucks and current Ducks center Ryan Kesler probably won't be seen, and likely won't be heard, when it comes to his reception Thursday night at Rogers Arena.

Here, he is about as polarizing as a political candidate. Loved or hated and definitely not ignored.

"I guess that's my personality," Kesler said Wednesday at a news conference at the arena. "You love me or you hate me. Like I said, I love this city. I've called it my home since I came here when I was 18 for training camp and now I'm 30.

"That's a long time in my life. That's over one-third of my lifetime. It will always have a place in my heart."

Kesler deftly stickhandled his way through the 13-minute-plus news conference, offering introspection and perspective on his 10-season career with the Canucks as he returned to play in Vancouver for the first time since being traded to Anaheim in June.

He played against the Canucks at Honda Center on Nov. 9, essentially a preview to Thursday's main show. It was pointed out that he almost thrives on playing the role of the villain. Kesler is hoping for a warm reception.

"Obviously, it's going to be an emotional night for me," he said. "If they boo me, it'll probably jack me up even more, if that's what you're asking. It's going to be fun tomorrow. Intense night and I'm looking forward to it."

He was asked about his sometime frosty relationship with the Vancouver media and whether he felt mistreated.

"No," Kesler said. "I think you guys think I'm grumpy all the time. Sometimes, I just don't want to talk to you."

The personal stuff was out of bounds, he felt.

"Other than that, you guys are hard on us," Kesler said. "But it's fair. It goes along with playing in a Canadian city and a Canadian market that thrives for news about hockey and news about the guys.

"Were there moments where I wish I did things differently? Yeah, obviously. I was young kid coming up and didn't know how to deal with stuff."

This has been a trip of homecomings and reunions for the Ducks, who faced former goaltender Jonas Hiller for the first time in Tuesday's shootout loss in Calgary. Hiller and Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen had a chat after the game.

Kesler is looking forward to matching wits with his close friend, defenseman Kevin Bieksa. They were roommates for eight years.

"He'll get his licks in," Kesler said. "I'll get mine in too. I'll chirp him a little bit too."

The Ducks know how big a deal this is for Kesler, just as it was when Anaheim Coach Bruce Boudreau went back to Washington, where he had coached for four seasons.

There is nothing quite like returning as the opposition.

"It was surreal for me," Boudreau said. "I had a hard time focusing , watching the Washington team because you look at them two totally different ways. ... [Alex] Ovechkin looked bigger and stronger as an opponent, for example, than when you see him every day. I'm sure when he [Kesler] sees [Radim] Vrbata wearing No. 17 he might say, 'Jeez, that's me.' "

Ducks defenseman Francois Beauchemin, who is scheduled to return to the lineup after battling mumps, was asked whether Kesler was a pleasant guy to play against.

"Never," he said quickly.

Which is why he was impressed when the Ducks acquired Kesler and a third-round pick in 2015 from the Canucks in exchange for forward Nick Bonino, defenseman Luca Sbisa and  first- and third-round draft choices in 2014.

"I had kind of the same reaction when we acquired Chris Pronger the summer before we won the Stanley Cup," Beauchemin said. "Those type of players make an impact on your team, really gets you to the next level."

DUCKS THURSDAY

AT VANCOUVER

When: 7.

On the air: TV: Ch. 13. Radio: 830.

Etc.: Forward Devante Smith-Pelly is off the injured reserve list and is available to play. Boudreau talked about Tuesday's third-period free fall in Calgary. "Right now, we just want to play a full 60 minutes," he said. "Last night, we were 40 minutes of great hockey and 20 minutes of not so great. That means we were on the rise because [Sunday] we were zero minutes of not-so-good hockey."

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