May 13, 2012
No bull with Caroline's Russell
By TERRY JONES, QMI Agency
HELSINKI - If you had to guess Kris Russell's occupation, what would it be?
a. Rodeo bull fighter.
b. Figure skater.
c. Hockey player.
The last one you'd pick might be hockey player if you were in the lobby of the hotel where the son of a rodeo bull fighter who grew up in Kurt Browning's home town of Caroline, Alta., was about to escort his mom Terri to the team's Mother's Day brunch Sunday.
The 5'10" 25-year-old was all dressed up in his best checked cowboy shirt with the pearl snap buttons, looking more capable of doing a quad than a crosscheck.
Russell completed Team Canada's roster when he arrived from his second-round playoff series with the St. Louis Blues at 12:30 a.m. Friday and played in Canada's first-place seizing 5-3 win over Finland in the Helsinki pool of the world hockey championships. And, unable to sleep much despite how tired he felt, which is usually how it works with overseas flights, he was back on the ice the next night to play against Kazakhstan.
"The first game I played on adrenalin. The second was tougher. The time zones were kicking in," he said.
Russell, who played for Canada in the tournament two years ago in Germany, said coming was a no-brainer.
"When I was told Canada might be looking at me, I didn't think about it at all. I will never say no to Canada."
Twice a gold medal winner at the world juniors, Russell also couldn't wait to play for Brent Sutter again like he did at the Vancouver 2006 edition.
You may remember his dad.
Doug "Shaky" Russell was a bull fighter, the guy who gets in the face of the bull to divert his attention while the cowboy scrambles out of the dirt to safety after failing to survive the eight second ride.
He was good enough to have been selected to work the Canadian Finals Rodeo in Edmonton four times before one day he just up and decided to call it a career.
That was the day when Kris and his twin brother Ryan, who now plays for the Carolina Hurricanes, were born.
"He quit because he wanted to get us away from that lifestyle as kids growing up. He just left it. I'm now pretty proud of what my dad did. But I didn't know about it for a while."
As for figure skating, he's proud of Kurt Browning, too.
"He was a huge inspiration. He put our little town on the map. I've met him. My mom and dad knew Dewey and Neva, Kurt's mom and dad, quite well."
But it wasn't Browning, his dad or an abundance of rodeo cowboys from around the community in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains who inspired the Russell twins. It was the Vandermeer family.
They're not quite as famed as the Sutter brothers from Viking, but Bill, Dan, Jim, Joe, Pete and Ted all played pro.
Jim, Pete and Ted were all four-year members of Sutter's Red Deer Rebels team in the Western Hockey League.
Jim is a former Edmonton Oiler and Calgary Flame with 461 NHL games to his credit. Pete played minor pro for a dozen years, mostly in the AHL making it up to the NHL for two games with the Phoenix Coyotes. Bill played mostly in the Central Hockey League. Dan played for a decade in the AHL, CHL and ECHL. Joe played mostly in the ECHL with one year in the AHL and a year in Germany. Ted played three years in the CHL.
"As kids playing hockey we felt it was the Vandermeer brothers who put us on the map," said Russell.
"I've known Brent Sutter for a long time through those guys, playing with his son, playing in his golf tournament and playing for him in the world junior. It's great to play for him again."
When Russell arrived, he joined half a club which has played for Sutter somewhere before.
"I've seen him play since he was a little guy, when he played bantam, coached against him in the WHL," said the coach.
"He's not the biggest defenceman in the world but his heart is as big as a 6'5" guy. He has a lot of tenacity in his game. He comes from a great family. I've known them a long time. his background epitomizes what he's all about. He's a real, real solid person. When Ken Hitchcock got the job in St. Louis, he was the first player acquisition he made."