Medicine Hat defenseman Kris Russell, the Columbus Blue Jackets third-round pick, 67th overall, in 2005 Entry Draft, left the World Junior Championship with the record for most goals (4) by a Canadian defenseman in a single World Junior tournament and his second gold medal in as many years. Russell’s four goals tied Jonathan Toews for a team best.
“It was something that I didn’t even realize,” Russell said of his record. “When your team is playing great and things are going well, individuals get recognized a little bit. I think that it says a lot about our team.”
Russell’s first two goals of the tournament proved to be the difference in a 3-1 win over Germany on Dec. 29, 2006.
Rushing in from the blue line, Russell found an opening and managed to squeeze a shot by Timo Pielmeier of Germany for the first goal of the game. At the half-way mark of the third period, with Canada holding onto a 2-1 lead, Russell notched his second goal of the night on a shot which deflected off a German skater. The win clinched first place for Canada in Group A and a bye into the semifinal round.
Two nights later, in a 3-0 win over Slovakia, Russell would record his second two-goal game of the tournament. Five minutes into the contest, Russell took a pass from defenseman Karl Alzner and used a screen in front to get the puck past Slovakian goaltender Branislav Konrad. A little more than three minutes later, Russell set the record for most goals by a Canadian defenseman in a single world junior tournament with a slap shot from the point.
“The goals I scored were a team effort,” Russell said. “Whenever you can help the team out it is always great - but it is exciting as well to hold a record.”
Russell’s two goals helped Canada earn the win and their fifth consecutive sweep of the preliminary rounds. He and his teammates then earned a trip back to the Gold Medal game after a 2-1 win over the United States in the semifinals.
The Gold Medal game was billed as Russia’s high-powered offense versus Canada’s steady defense. While it was Russell’s record-setting offense that Canada benefited from in the preliminary rounds, it was his defense which was the difference maker in Canada’s 4-2 win over Russia in the Gold Medal game.
On two separate occasions, Russia was able to get their shots to trickle past Canadian goalie Carey Price, only to have the puck slapped away by Russell before it could cross the goal line.
“There were a couple of opportunities when the puck fell on some weird shots and floated through a bit and then was just hanging on the line,” Russell said. “I was lucky to be there to find the puck, and I just batted it out of there. All in all, I think our defense did a great job of clearing the puck away from (Carey) Price.”
Russell learned the importance of positioning from watching fellow Canadian defenseman, Scott Niedermayer. He finished the tournament with better numbers than Neidermayer had in either of his two years as a defenseman for Canada in the World Junior Championships in 1991 and 1992.
“I like the way (Scott Neidermayer) moves the puck and finds the opening,” Russell said. “He isn’t the biggest guy, but he does his job. His body positioning is great and I really try to focus on that (in my own game).
“With the NHL now, it definitely helps the more skilled players. There is more room to work and they are taking away the clutching and grabbing. If you are able to skate, you can be successful.”
Russell plans to use this style of play as he makes his way up the ranks and hopefully to the NHL.