Ryan Kesler's 'Between Two Zambonis' talk-show parody is seriously funny

The latest subject, or, guest, for Ryan Kesler's "talk show" was Nick Ritchie, and it unfolded much like previous episodes.

There was Ritchie, the 20-year-old Ducks rookie, sitting next to Kesler in a makeshift stage Thursday near the Zamboni tunnel at Honda Center as Kesler beared down on him.

Kesler tested Ritchie's knowledge of spelling and Canadian geography and, at one point, had Ritchie blindfolded for a parlor game. Like needling from an annoying older brother, Kesler was in his element with Ritchie in the latest episode of the Ducks-produced "Between Two Zambonis," a parody of the irreverent skit "Between Two Ferns" by actor-comedian Zach Galifianakis.

Kesler as host has joked that teammate Ryan Getzlaf's forehead is as big as a drive-in. He has asked teammates Rickard Rakell and Hampus Lindholm, "Who would have the hotter date?" Kesler once said of a cardboard cutout of teammate Corey Perry, "He's probably more personable than the real one."

It's a refreshing turn from the safe, noncontroversial interviews that come out of hockey locker rooms. It's also a side of Kesler that fits his dry style yet balances his death-stare demeanor with humor, and it has coincided with his reassertion as a Selke Trophy candidate as one of the NHL's best defensive forwards.

Kesler agreed to do the show when first approached about it by the Ducks' communication staff, partly because he's aware of his villain persona. He also did a candid-camera video for a preseason game in which he disguised himself as a fan and roamed Honda Center.

Ryan Kesler, jokester? Prankster?

"I think, or, I know, a lot of people don't see me that way," Kesler said. "I take my job very seriously. I take the way I perform seriously. That's a part of me that no one really gets to see, so it's good that people get a glimpse of the real me."

Teammates have seen the show and know what to expect. Veterans Getzlaf and Kevin Bieksa have held serve as guests, but it's open season on younger players, with questions straight from the television show "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" designed to make teammates look bad.

"He's a fun guy," Lindholm said. "He knows how to make a show like that be good. It was a fun thing. It's nothing, really, I would normally do, I guess, but he made it pretty [fun]."

Bieksa has been a teammate of Kesler for 10 years, since both were with Vancouver, and said it's refreshing for fans to see a different side of one of the NHL's most hated players.

Kesler touched on that polarizing perception in a piece for The Players' Tribune website last month in which he detailed his confrontations with older players growing up in Michigan. After he was cut from a youth team a third time, he cried and his father talked him out of quitting hockey.

"Ever since that day, I've had a chip on my shoulder," Kesler wrote.

Kesler knows his intensity is palpable. He walks through the dressing room with a dead-pan stare, and it's difficult to judge him on a given day.

"I don't think he's ever in a good mood," Bieksa said. "He could be in not-a-terrible mood or a terrible mood. But I think guys understand who he is. It's nothing against anybody else. He's in his own world. He's focused. He's serious. He's competitive. You have to do whatever makes you a better hockey player."

Through Friday, Kesler led NHL forwards in blocked shots and was fifth in faceoff-win percentage. He had 12 points in his first 36 games and 29 points in his subsequent 34 games. Kesler won the Selke in 2011, after his second-best offensive season.

"To me, he's the perfect Selke candidate," Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "But people look at [offensive] numbers now for that award. But he plays against every top line in the league — him, [Andrew Cogliano] and [Jakob] Silfverberg — and they've been doing a great job … and he's a very serious hockey player that comes to play every night."

Kesler credits his linemates as well, and their nightly defensive assignments explain why Kesler has to be serious.

"I think you mentally prepare every night, but having that challenge, you do a little more," he said. "You do a little extra mentally to prepare yourself to play against the top line. I thought for the last couple of months my line's been really good doing it."

Kesler had on his game face after "interviewing" Ritchie. Walking out of Honda Center he was asked whether Perry, a former nemesis, would appear on the show.

"Hopefully one of these days," Kesler said. "I'll have to get something on him and bribe him. I'll have to get a naked photo of him or something."

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Update: The Ducks kick off a five-game trek through Canada with a matinee. Boudreau said injured Sami Vatanen and Nate Thompson wouldn't start the trip with the team but might join them later. The Jets have lost eight of 11 since they traded captain Andrew Ladd.

Follow Curtis Zupke on Twitter @CurtisZupke

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on March 20, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Kesler's parody of talk show is seriously funny - Ducks center shows a different side as he plays off of Galifianakis' success." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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