OTTAWA - Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel is unloved in Ottawa when the Senators host the NHL's battle of Ontario. His sister Amanda will accept the role of villain in that city if it means a gold medal at the women's world hockey championship.

"I guess I wouldn't mind not being popular if our team won," Amanda says. "It's just exciting to be here in Canada, a country that really supports hockey."

The 21-year-old from Madison, Wisc., is evolving into a dominant player for the U.S. She's four years younger than Phil, yet comparisons of their games will arise.

"People always say we look like each other when we skate," Phil says. "She's a really skilled player. She's a great player and when you watch her. She does all the little things real well."

Amanda has also heard comments comparing their skating strides.

"That makes me happy to hear," the sister says. "Obviously an awesome player and my favourite player to watch and somebody I really look up to.

"I think we both kind of stick handle and see the ice the same way. I like to pass the puck a little bit more and he likes to shoot it a little bit more. I don't quite have that shot obviously."

Amanda draws on her older brother's experience to navigate challenges on and off the ice.

"Whenever we're in slumps or not playing well, we shoot texts back and forth," she says. "He's just someone who, yeah, if something's not going well with me, he's been there and he's obviously had his fair share with coaches and media and whatnot not on his side. He's always someone good to go to."

Amanda is appearing in just her second women's world championship after contributing three goals and seven assists to her country's silver medal last year in Burlington, Vt.

She led all players in assists in the preliminary round of this year's world championship with five in three games. She scored a goal as well.

Amanda dominated NCAA Division 1 women's hockey this season. Her 46 goals and 55 assists in 37 games in her junior year made her just the fourth player to break the 100-point barrier.

Minnesota went undefeated through the season and defended their Frozen Four title. Kessel won the Patty Kazmaier Award that goes to the top female player in the NCAA.

"She took her game to another level," U.S. national team coach Katey Stone says. "She's really committed herself off the ice. She's taken better care of herself.

"She became much more acclimated to everything that needed to be done there. She came into our winter camp and just put on a display. She was just fantastic. She's just growing her game and that's what you want all these young players to do is grow their game."

Phil is a product of USA Hockey's National Team Development Program, which centralizes the top male under-18 talent in the country. The NTDP trains and plays games out of Ann Arbour, Mich.

Similarly, Amanda rose through the female ranks via USA Hockey's under-18 and under-22 women's teams. She played in the first two women's world under-18 championships in 2008 and 2009 when the Americans defeated Canada for gold both years.

She chose to play hockey for her brother's alma mater, Minnesota. After a solid freshman year of 50 points in 38 games, Amanda averaged almost two points per game in her sophomore campaign.

But the five-foot-five, 140-pound forward was explosive for the Golden Gopher this season. She had hip surgery in last June and contended with weakness and pain in that hip during the season.

"She's the best or one of the best in the world right now and she's not even 100 per cent," says Noora Raty, Finland's goaltender and Amanda's Minnesota teammate.

"She's been battling through injuries the whole year and still won the Patty Kaz."

Amanda has a teammate draw an arrow pointing up on her left hand before every game. She's done that since her sophomore season.

"That's a reminder to stay positive and kind of a little superstition too now," she explains. "Before every game I have to put it on my left hand. Somebody else actually has to draw it on me."

Phil represented his country at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, where the U.S. lost the final in overtime to Canada on Sidney Crosby's golden goal.

Phil scored a goal in six games in Vancouver. He's a strong candidate to play for the U.S. again in 2014 should the NHL agree to participate in the Winter Olympics again. If he's there, Phil hopes his sister joins him in Sochi, Russia.

"It would be real cool if we could both be at the Olympics together," he says. "I think we'd have a lot of fun."

Adds Amanda: "That would be pretty cool both of us playing for the United States. I can't imagine being there and being able to be there with my brother would be unbelievable."

___

Joshua Clipperton contributed to this story

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