Oilers Pain Prince Kris Russell orbiting the story after changing his game

What do they give Kris Russell when he officially becomes the all-time National Hockey League point guard on Saturday night in Vegas?

A bag of sterling silver ice cream?

A giant portrait of him skating on the ice, bent over, a thought bubble hovering over his head that says, “# @ &% !!! “?

He is the Prince of Pain and should wear a “C” on his chest – not for “Captain”, but for “Courage”.

“I came in like an offensive guy,” began Russell, who needs two blocks to hit 1,999 and pass Brent Seabrook for the all-time lead in blocked shots, a stat they’ve started to establish. for the 2005-06 season.

It’s hard to believe he was a point-per-game defenseman for the Medicine Hat Junior Tigers, twice named WHL Defenseman of the Year and 2006-07 league MVP winner. In junior, he was a star. A cross between Phil Housley and Reijo Ruotsalainen, and the Blue Jackets drafted him in hopes he could one day execute their power play.

“I tried that in Columbus, I tried to progress by trying to be the same player. Things had to change,” said the 34-year-old. “I wasn’t playing so much, then I was traded to (St. Louis), and they kind of put me in a more defensive role. I just grabbed him, trying to do whatever I could to play in the Top 4.

“It bought me a few more years. I am grateful for it.

It’s the story of an undersized country kid looking for something he could do better than all those academy kids and big city gamers. Something that could save him more time in the National Hockey League, when it became clear that the guy he was in junior was gone and wasn’t coming back.

What did he have that all these rich kids (mostly) didn’t have? What could he do to, as he puts it, “play in the Top 4?” “

After St. Louis he ended up in Calgary, 125 km from his hometown of Caroline, the central Alberta village of about 500 people that gave us figure skater Kurt Browning and the Vandermeer brothers, such a tough hockey family that never cracked a cold Canadian in a cinder block locker room.

In Calgary, there were four positions up for grabs behind Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie. Coach was Bob Hartley, who focused on blocking shots. “I thought if I could bring that to the table I could jump into the Top 4,” said Russell.

He’s small – five foot nine, maybe five to ten, 170 pounds. What he never would have had over the rest of the NHL was size and strength.

But his pain threshold? It was perhaps the one thing the good Lord had given Kris Russell that very few others could match.

“I’ll be the first to admit,” said Zack Kassian, a man as beefy as he prepares in the NHL, “when I block a shot – if I ever do – it hurts, bad. I’d rather be punched in the face.

Kassian is tough, but not in the same way as guys like Niklas Hjalmarsson, Dean Kennedy or Lee Fogolin – who have already mined their own matchday trim with a hotel curtain hook.

Russell is calm in the country. Calm, with a panic level as low as the belly of a proverbial snake in a wagon rut.

But his pain threshold? It’s taller than an owl on a grain elevator.

Russell comes this way honestly. His father, Doug “Shaky” Russell, was a bullfighter who competed in four rodeos at the Canadian Finals as a guy who jumps in the face of the bull after pushing his rider off. Sometimes he would slap this bull – which weighs between 1,200 and 2,000 pounds. – just in the kiss to divert his attention from the fallen cowboy.

Doug left the rodeo when twins Kris and Ryan were born – he didn’t want them in that rodeo lifestyle. So Kris left and found something even more painful, blocking shots at a rate of 7.01 per game, the highest among players with 1,500 blocks or more.

On the occasion of overtaking Seabrook and possibly becoming the first to register 2,000 blocks Saturday night in Vegas, Russell was asked: Which puck hurts the most?

“I took a few,” he said to himself. “(Shea) Weber’s still got that heavy. They were charging Dion (Phaneuf) in those early years there. So, yeah, there are some big boys that can really lean on them.

What’s the worst shot to block?

“Guys who are in those flank positions on the power play,” he said, “because you don’t have that much time to react to it. It’s kind of like, you’re gonna take it where you’re gonna take it. These are the most difficult. “

By nature, Russell’s teammates watch his pursuit of the record more closely than he does. Those who underestimate shot blocking have never been around NHL players, or have never known the appreciation they have for a guy who sacrifices the way Russell did for 889 games.

“They’re usually the ones who check the scoresheet to see how many I have,” he admits.

Tonight in career Game 890, Russell will be one of the best defensemen for Dave Tippett’s Oilers, who are missing the entire left side of their blue line, with Darnell Nurse, Duncan Keith and Slater Koekkoek all injured.

Tippett has always been a bit skeptical of stats like hits, giveaways, and takeaways, criteria that tend to change with different off-ice stats teams from building to building. “But when a guy blocks a shot,” he said, “he blocks a shot. And Kris Russell has been doing that for a very long time.

As for those blocking poop shots, well, maybe they should get in front of a piece of vulcanized rubber flying around 90 mph at one point. Just to get a taste of what it feels like to be “insane”.

“It’s a commitment from a player to put their body on the line to help the team win,” said Tippett. “And there is something to be said for that.”


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