In fact, with the 1993-94 Stars, the franchise’s first year in Dallas, he had a career high in points (23-57-80) in 84 games, just one year after he had 79 points during the final season in Minnesota. As one of the players who made the move from the Twin Cities to Big D, he’ll always remember those early days of Dallas Stars hockey quite fondly.
“It was an incredible time for us to move from Minnesota and to be embraced by such a great city of sports fans. It was really exciting for all of us to be there,” Courtnall said. “We had a great year but unfortunately, lost to Vancouver in the playoffs. Unfortunately, the team ran into some financial difficulties at the time and couldn’t sign everybody. We lost a few people including myself. Then, they got it back on track and went onto win [the Cup in 1999].”
Like the rest of his teammates, at least early on, he wondered what kind of support they would receive in the Lone Star State but once they arrived in the Metroplex, they were pleasantly surprised.
“Well, because we were all in the same boat, we were curious how the city was going to embrace a hockey team. We were just amazed with what happened. We caught the city by storm and it was phenomenal,” Cournall said. “Everybody had such a great time. It’s a fun city. We were ready to give it our best. Every time we stepped on the ice, the building was loud and vibrant. We all just loved coming to the rink.”
And for a guy who had previously played in both Toronto and Montreal, he felt the atmosphere on game nights at Reunion Arena could rival any storied barn in the league.
“In some ways, it’s very much like a lot of the Canadian cities. I would say that the rink was louder than a lot of Canadian cities. A lot of Canadians sit back and enjoy the game. They know the game really well and they’re conservative in cheering for their home team,” Courtnall said. “Dallas, everybody went there to have fun and they got excited for different reasons.”
One thing he especially remembers is one thing that always got the Stars fans on their feet was strong, solid physical play.
“They got excited for big hits, like Shane Churla and [Mark] Tinordi, who were huge players on our team. Outside the rink, they became stars and literally superstars in the city of Dallas because of their physical play,” Courtnall said. “We had great offense too. It was a real loud building. When we had success, they showed it. They showed their enthusiasm for us and the game.”
In April 1995, he was traded from the Stars to the Canucks, a bittersweet development in his career. On one hand, he was leaving Dallas, a place he had gotten attached to. However, heading to Vancouver meant he would now get the chance to play alongside his older brother, Geoff. Unfortunately, that reunion didn’t last terribly long, 13 games to be exact.
“It was something we always wanted to do. It took so long for us to get onto the same team and then he quickly signed with St. Louis, so it didn’t last that long,” Courtnall said. “In the early days, I really wanted him to come to Toronto when he was struggling at Boston. The GM was worried what would happen if he got cut and was sent to the minors, how would I respond to that? So they didn’t make the trade back then. It’s really too bad because when we played junior together, we played on the same line and we had great chemistry. Anyways, we got to play on the same team but we really didn’t get to play on the same line. I was moved from center to right wing, so I didn’t get a chance to really play with him when I got to Vancouver on the same line.”
After being traded to the Rangers in March 1997, he signed with the Kings for the 1997-98 campaign. Russ would play a total of two seasons in the City of Angels before hanging up his skates in 1999 for good at age 33.
When asked to reflect on his time in the NHL, he does so with an immense amount of pride, especially in the fact that his game was constantly evolving at the professional level.
“[I’m] pretty proud of some of my accomplishments. I was a high pick. I was an offensive player and when I went to Montreal, I had to move from center to right wing and become a defensive, two-way player. Fortunately enough, I played with Guy Carbonneau in Montreal and Neal Broten in Dallas. When I got to play with good centermen like that, I managed to put up points,” Courtnall said.
Being asked to be a great two-way player had a downside in that he didn’t log as many minutes on the power play as he would have liked, but it also carried with it a nice bonus.
“I had to play really well defensively or I didn’t get to play. I didn’t get the power play time that I would have liked but I killed penalties a lot. When I played with those guys, I played against the top line of the other team. Our job was to really shut down the other team’s best line,” Courtnall said. “When we got the puck, we created offense and we had success. I was proud of the fact I became a two-way player.”
He now lives in Canada and when he’s not coaching his kids at the youth level, he’s active raising funds for a mental health center bearing his father’s name in British Columbia. One annual event is the Courtnall Classic, a well-attended golf tournament that features numerous current and former NHL players and personalities. Russ was one of three ex-Stars to play in the 2011 event along with Greg Adams and Neal Broten.
“It’s our third Courtnall Classic for mental health. It’s our sixth event we had but the last three were for mental health,” Courtnall said. “Our dad committed suicide when we were kids and we were raising money for mental health. We opened the Archie Courtnall Center, which has seen almost 20,000 people so far, people suffering from mental health issues. It’s a 72-hour care facility and one-of-a-kind in both countries. We’re real proud of that. Now we’re raising money for long-term mental health care, people who go through the Archie Courtnall Center that need a longer stay in the hospital. We’ve built a brand new facility and we’re raising money towards that.”
But that isn’t the only thing that occupies his time. He also coaches his son and the two watch NHL games on a fairly regular basis.
“My son plays so I watch. We watch some games together and I do coach,” Courtnall said. “The game’s really changed a lot. It’s amazing how different it is today. They’re so skilled and everyone’s so fast. It’s amazing how the game has gotten so much better from when I retired.”
However, while he has done his fair share of coaching at the youth level, one thing he hasn’t pursued is a coaching or a front office position in the league.
“I haven’t pursued it. I haven’t gone out of my way to try to find a team. I’ve really spent most of my retired time with my family, my kids and my charity. I was the assistant coach for Team Canada in the Spangler Cup. That was fun to be behind the bench, behind a bunch of professionals. I enjoyed it,” Courtnall said. “My main focus is on my kids and my family.”