|Ryan Russell potted his first professional career hat trick earlier this season. Two of the goals were shorthanded. |
MONTREAL – With an abundance of prospects in Hamilton, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. Even more so when you’ve swapped NHL teams before even putting pen to paper on your first professional contract. Such is the case of Ryan Russell.
In May 2007, the Canadiens acquired Russell from the New York Rangers and promptly inked him to an entry-level pact. Nearly two years later, the Caroline, Alberta native is quietly enjoying a solid sophomore pro campaign. He’s collected 24 points in 50 games while sitting on the positive side of a plus/minus rating all season long, the latter ranking him at or near the head of the Bulldogs pack.
Confidence has been a big part of his second-year success, thanks to a championship run with the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones in 2007-08.
“That was huge,” said Russell of the Kelly Cup triumph. “It was really something special and gave me the chance to play more hockey and end my season on a high note. After that, I was ready to make the full-time jump to the AHL.”
That’s where he finds himself now. But where did it all begin? Just who is Ryan Russell?
“I’m a farm boy,” he said. “When I was younger, my brother and I used to get up early – though not too early, thankfully - and do some typical farm chores. We’d rake hay, drive the tractor, do some fencing.”
“That’s when you have to put the fence back up. Sometimes the cows would get spooked and when they’d try to jump the fence, they’d knock it down.”
While chores of any kind rarely get a kid jumping for joy, these days Russell relishes in the opportunity to head back home after a long and grinding hockey season.
“I miss it there,” admitted the 21-year-old. “It’s the perfect place to get away, take it easy and spend some time with the family.”
That family includes his parents, grandfather and his lone sibling – twin brother Kris, currently is in his second season patrolling the Columbus Blue Jackets’ blue line.
The pair grew up donning the same jersey until the age of 16 when their junior careers took them to separate WHL squads; Ryan, the “older” of the two, headed to Kootenay while Kris joined Medicine Hat.
|The Russell twins: Ryan (left) and Kris. |
“It was different playing against him but it made it more fun and that much more competitive,” noted Ryan, who consistently ranked among the top five in team scoring during his junior days, improving with each passing year.
The competition was indeed there. The pair spent a few years in the same division, intensifying the on-ice battles. Maybe a little more than mom would have liked.
“We actually got into a fight in our first game against each other,” recalled Kris. “He was always one of the best on his team; there was no way I was letting him score a goal against me.”
While no love was lost between the brothers on the ice back then, outside the rink, the duo are as close as can be today, even if their current respective home bases aren’t.
“We speak often, probably every few days,” said Ryan.
“It’s good because we’re always helping each other out,” added Kris of their regular chats. “If either of us has something going on, the other will be the first one we call. We know how to handle each other and what to say to get the other going.”
Seeing his brother succeed at the NHL level has added more motivation for the 5-foot-10, 180-pound forward. But, it’s more than just his footsteps that he’d like to follow in.
“I’ve looked up to guys who are like me in size,” said Ryan. “Guys like Saku and Martin St. Louis are a couple who have really had an influence on me. They may be smaller but they’re dominant.”
He credits his work ethic to his parents, who own the farm land with his grandfather and work at a Shell gas plant nearby.
“Growing up, they worked really hard to give Kris and I opportunities and show us how to give it our all,” he said. “Now we do the same to make their sacrifices worthwhile.”
So, that’s a little more background on the Habs’ prospect. But is there anything else fans should know?
“He’s pretty reserved and you can never really tell what he’s thinking,” remarked Kris. “I don’t know that he has any secrets but if he did and I knew what they were, I’d definitely share them!”Heather Engel is a writer for canadiens.com