Olympic Hockey Hero is NHL 2K11's Cover Man

Presumed dead until a week ago, not only is NHL 2K11 publishing this year for the Wii, it'll have one of the stars of the United States' silver medal-winning Olympic hockey team starring on its cover.

Ryan Kesler (right), who memorably fired home an empty-net goal to cap the Americans' victory over Canada to begin the Olympics, was asked to do the cover a day after the team's loss in the gold-medal rematch.

"I was pretty disheartened after we lost in the gold medal game, and to get the call the next day and to be asked if I wanted to be on the cover, it was a nice pick-me-up," Kesler said. "It's always been a dream."

Kesler, who plays for the Vancouver Canucks, has been a player consultant working with 2K Sports on its NHL 2K series for the past four years. Last year he also provided some motion capture acting (pictured) for the game. 2K maintains a stable of players advising them on the professional sports sims they make. The Americans' trip through the Olympic hockey tournament produced some of the most-watched hockey games by U.S. viewers in recent history, and when 2K realized it had a shooting star in house, jumped at the opportunity to put him front and center.

Kesler said that he's felt more recognizable since the Olympics' conclusion a week ago. The Canucks are on a two-week road trip and played four games in the U.S. right after the Feb. 28 finale. Members of the U.S. team playing road games have been greeted with ovations - some louder than the cheering for home stars - recognizing the country's best showing in years.

The U.S. entered elimination play as the top seed after defeating Canada - for the first time in 50 years - in the preliminary stage. After staging a furious rally in the closing minutes of the gold medal game's third period - with Kesler's goal starting Team USA's scoring in the second- the Americans fell in sudden death overtime.

"Our first game back was in Columbus, the second was in my hometown of Detroit, and I was definitely getting more cheers there than before," Kesler said. 'The biggest thing I've noticed is being stopped in the street, people congratulating me, congratulating us all."

Interestingly, in deciding that NHL 2K would take a one-year break on the PS3 and Xbox 360 but continue to publish for the Wii, parent company Take-Two Interactive said the title on that platform had done well with Canadians. Putting Kesler on should endear it to U.S. fans, but is it a provocation up north?

"I'm not saying sorry," Kesler said with a laugh, "They got us when it counted, they have nothing to complain about."