The University of Alabama-Huntsville isn't necessarily known for developing high-end NHL talent. But the hockey program is gaining some attention this season with the recent success of New York Rangers goaltender Cam Talbot, who led the school to the College Hockey America tournament title and its second NCAA tournament berth in 2010.
A lanky, under-recruited goaltender from Ontario when he arrived at Huntsville in 2007, Talbot's gradual rise to the League was propelled in part by competition from another goaltender who is now paving his own way in a completely different field.
Battling Talbot for a spot in the Chargers' crease that season was Wyatt Russell, the son of actors Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, who would stay for just over a year at Huntsville before leaving to play professionally in Germany. Now establishing himself as an actor with a number of high-profile roles, Russell became fast friends with his UAH teammate.
"There were three freshman goalies that year, so we were always battling it out. But off the ice, we were good buddies, hung out all the time. It was a really good atmosphere between the three of us," Talbot said. "Wyatt's a really good guy and it's unfortunate he didn't stick around as long as the rest of us. The time we were together, we were good friends."
Russell eventually retired due to injury, but it didn’t take long for him to establish a place in the family business. He enjoyed a supporting role last year in "This is 40," the Judd Apatow-directed comedy starring Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann. He also appeared this year in the horror film "We Are Who We Are," which earned critical acclaim when it was screened at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. He'll soon be seen honing his comedy chops again in "22 Jump Street," the sequel to the buddy cop comedy, "21 Jump Street."
After catching his former teammate's performance in "This is 40," Talbot is thrilled to see where Russell's new career has taken him.
"I was pleasantly surprised. That was the first time I had seen him in a role like that," Talbot said. "It's great to see him getting some exposure out there and getting those kinds of roles."
Talbot sent a text message to his old friend after seeing the film. The gesture was returned months later when Russell contacted Talbot to congratulate him when he was called up from the American Hockey League by the Rangers. Since arriving in New York, the 26-year-old is 11-5-0 and boasts a 1.75 goals-against average and .938 save percentage.
"It's awesome," Russell told NHL.com. "He fought his way through the American League, got to the NHL and played the way he can. A lot of guys would buckle under that, but he didn't. I couldn't be happier."
The healthy respect the two have for each other predates their time at Huntsville. Before arriving on campus, they faced off in Junior A hockey in Ontario, where Talbot played for the Hamilton Red Wings and Russell led the Brampton Capitals.
"We played against each other the two years prior to Huntsville. We had a really cool rivalry in junior," Russell said. "It was always the most fun to play against him because he was so good."
Russell's two passions will hopefully come together in the coming months. He is currently slated to play Bobby Orr in "Turk," a big-screen portrayal of the life of legendary Boston Bruin Derek Sanderson. As the details for the Sanderson biopic come together, the pair will continue to cheer other on from afar.
"Everybody's really proud of Cam right now," Russell said. "I was watching him in the same workout group in college and saw him work really hard. You really pull for each other when you like the person. When somebody like that gets an opportunity to do what I think they were meant to do and is achieving it, it makes me happy."