For Kris and Ryan Russell, one comment made in passing quickly turned into one of the biggest awestruck moments of their young lives.
The pair of hockey-playing twins typically spend their summers working out together in Canada, similar to about 99 percent of professional hockey players. It’s a perfect opportunity for the two brothers to spend time with each other away from often-hectic lives as professional athletes and improve for the upcoming season.
|Ryan Russell |
|Kris Russell |
Growing up in Caroline, Alberta, a small town in western Canada, the Russell twins were well-known in their town of roughly 515 residents. They frequently played against each other in pee wee hockey, and the last time they played together was in junior hockey. But it wasn’t until the Blue Jackets acquired Ryan in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens that the two were reunited – almost a decade later – as part of the same organization.
“(Before the trade) I never heard a word about it,” Kris said. “We worked out one morning, he came out and checked his phone then said ‘I just got traded.’
“I said ‘where did you go?’ Sure enough, he came to Columbus.”
At that moment, they both began to realize that much was changing. Their off-season workouts would bring them to the same building in September, and Ryan would have the chance to compete alongside his brother for the first time since they were in high school.
This training camp will also be the first time they’ve shared the same ice in a game situation since junior hockey, when Kris played for the Medicine Hat Tigers and Ryan was a member of the Kootenay Ice in the Western Hockey League. Both of them are quick to remember one junior hockey game when they did not just compete head-to-head. They dropped the gloves, too.
“Our first game in junior – we fought at center ice,” Kris said. “I think (Kris’) teammates were trying to get him to go with me the whole game,” Ryan said. “It wasn’t really premeditated, it just kind of happened.
“It surprised the parents, that’s for sure.”
One might think that after playing competitive hockey from a young age, either of the brothers would have at least dabbled in a different position on the ice.
According to Ryan, only one of the twins seriously considered making a change.
“I was always a forward,” Ryan said. “Kris was mixed up as a kid.”
And by “mixed up,” Ryan meant that his twin brother at one point had intentions of manning the pipes as a goaltender. With some careful consideration from the parents, he made the switch to defense. Turns out it was the prudent decision from Mr. Russell that helped pave Kris’ path to the NHL as a defenseman.
“Dad changed that (goaltending idea) pretty quick,” Ryan said.
Kris wasn’t exactly warm to the idea at first. How many kids see playing defense as being relative to goaltender?
“I didn’t really think of it like that- I was pretty upset about it,” Kris said. “But with the way people shoot nowadays, it was a great decision.”
They both acknowledged that they’re pretty close to identical, and for someone who may not know them well, it would not be easy to tell them apart. Kris joked about always making sure he dressed differently than Ryan so people could distinguish them.
One thing is for certain: they play far from identical roles on the ice. Ryan is regarded as a fleet-footed two-way forward that can check and find the back of the net. Kris is a mobile defenseman who can do damage on the power play. Though their positions are very different, each twin was fortunate to have picked up the Russell “speed” gene.
But, could they ever switch jerseys and pull the old switch-a-roo?
“Probably not with my backward skating ability,” Ryan said, bringing a laugh from his brother.
Training camps can be an uncomfortable experience for new players, but Ryan has been fortunate to make the transition to Columbus smoother than most. He has been staying with Kris and they commute to and from the rink together and hang out every night – just like they did as kids.
“It’s like always having a buddy there,” Kris said. “We grew up as best friends, we’re still best friends and the last few years, we haven’t seen each other that much.
“This is an experience I’m excited about, and I’m glad he’s here.”