When we had the opportunity as young kids to be able to go to the Saddledome and watch an NHL hockey game, coming from the small town, that was pretty incredible - Kris Russell
CALGARY, AB -- Growing up in Caroline, AB, Kris Russell had a choice to make. The small town of around 500 people was almost directly west of Red Deer meaning he had the selection of either being a Calgary Flames or Edmonton Oilers fan.
The Russell clan chose the C of Red back then, and starting next year, the 26-year-old defenceman will be donning the Flames jersey after being acquired from the St. Louis Blues on Friday.
“I’m really appreciative of the opportunity the Flames have given me after trading for me,” said Russell, who calls Red Deer home during the off-season. “It’s going to be special to put on that jersey.
“It means a lot more knowing that I’m not too far from home.“
With his twin brother Ryan – an NHL forward – and the rest of the family, they would trek into Calgary for one or two Flames games a season, harvesting a love of the pro-style.
“When we had the opportunity as young kids to be able to go to the Saddledome and watch an NHL hockey game, coming from the small town, that was pretty incredible,” Russell said. “It kind of grew from there of my love of the Flames and happy and excited to get a chance to play for them.
“We were never season ticket holders but we would try to do one or two games a year. We had our own hockey season to worry about.”
Of course — the Russell boys had their own blossoming hockey career to worry about at the time. Kris became an integral member of the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League. In his four-year WHL career from 2003 to 2007, he won the WHL Four Broncos Memorial Trophy as the WHL Most Valuable Player, CHL Defenceman of the Year, CHL Sportsman of the Year and two-time Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy as WHL Defenceman of the Year.
In the midst of all those awards, he was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the third round (67th overall) of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.
He spent parts of five seasons with the Blue Jackets, setting career highs of 23 points in the 2010-11 season. Early the next year, he was dealt to the St. Louis Blues in a move to be reunited with former head coach Ken Hitchcock.
Over the last season and a half, he was a top 4 defenceman on the resurgent Blues team, scoring 16 points in 76 games.
However, a number crunch on the backend forced Russell to the press box a few months ago after the Blues acquired Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold in separate trade deadline deals.
“I felt good with my game, I was playing top four minutes then at the deadline, they got those two guys in Bouwmeester and Leopold and it kind of shuffled me out a little bit,” said Russell, who describes himself as a puck-moving, gritty defender. “As a competitive person, you want to be on the ice and you want to play. As a player, all I want to do is play. I’m excited for that chance in Calgary.”
He had an inkling a move out of St. Louis was possible after the Blues made the decision to resign impending unrestricted free agent Leopold a few days ago.
But he was still surprised when he found out early Friday morning he was about to become a member of his favourite team growing up.
“Whenever you get traded, there is a little place where you’re going to miss your teammates and miss the city and the people you’ve grown accustomed with in St. Louis but at the same point, not many people get to play in their own back yard.
“It’s a chance where I really feel I can play hard and earn some ice time. I’m really looking forward to it.”