Ryan Russell and Steve Campbell are changing how people view hockey one eppie at a time.
Russell and Campbell, two longtime friends from Alberta, have launched themselves to hockey stardom with their goofy web series "On the Bench," featuring NHL players.
Each eppie, or episode, is unscripted and improvised, featuring Russell and Campbell playing the roles of Jacob Ardown and Olly Postanin. Ardown and Postanin try to teach young players the "fundies," or fundamentals, like how block a shot or perfect a celly, short for celebration, often with comically bad results.
"It's honestly who we are," Campbell told NHL.com. "He was the first person I met when he moved to town. We shared a love of hockey, and me and Ryan started playing hockey then and pretty much became best friends."
Though only 38 eppies have been recorded as of Aug. 20, the series has taken off and NHL teams have taken notice. Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds was the first NHL player to appear in July, and they toured southern California and Arizona last week, teaching fundies to members of the Los Angeles Kings and Arizona Coyotes.
"They think it's great," Campbell said of the players' reactions. "The best part of it all is you get to see the lighter side of the players. You get them out there, and they get to have a little fun and it makes it a great environment."
Tensions were high, though, when they tried to shoot a clip with Ryan Miller and Nate Thompson of the Anaheim Ducks, which posted Aug. 8.
"They seem to enjoy picking on us, that's for sure," Russell joked. "They were great guys to work with, and they were a little nervous about going too hard on us. But we told them we grew up playing hockey. Don't be shy."
Campbell and Russell are hockey coaches and professionals in AIrdrie, Alberta, a city about 20 miles north of Calgary. They've been friends since Campbell moved to Calgary in 2004, and both grew up playing hockey, reaching the Junior B level. They started the series in January in part as a way to teach hockey in a fun way.
"We wanted to put some fun back into the game," Campbell said. "We were coaching kids, and they were training six or seven days per week. They were treating it as a business. We wanted to put some laughs back into it and show everyone the lighter side of hockey."
After posting episodes, or "eppies," for slightly more than three months the April 15, one titled "Skating on Concrete" took off.
The video got more than 1.5 million views on Facebook, and Russell and Campbell woke up astonished by the reception they'd received.
"We were very surprised," Russell said. "I never thought this would ever happen. I never pictured it to be as big as it right now."
They have more than 204,000 followers on Instagram and more than 90,000 people like their Facebook page.
Their initial goal was to make people laugh and teach the fundies and hockey slang in a family-friendly way so kids could enjoy their humor. But things have changed because of their success.
They're hoping to shoot videos with every NHL team and started selling merchandise with hopes of raising enough money to start a hockey camp in Airdrie.
"Really, as long as people are laughing, we'll keep making videos," Russell said. "We just want a reason for people to smile, as long as that's happening, we'll keep coming around."