2013 — Cam Russell

Cam Russell

Growing up in Cole Harbour, N.S., Cam Russell hardly ever watched hockey. There was no ritual of Hockey Night In Canada at his house. His first love was movies.
Russell played hockey – lots of it – but didn’t consider himself a hockey fan. He says he didn’t bother watching games until he was drafted to the Chicago Blackhawks – 50th overall – in 1987.
Now, watching hockey has become a part of his everyday life as the general manager of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Halifax Mooseheads.
in 2012 Russell’s hard work came to fruition as the Mooseheads won both the President’s Cup and the Memorial Cup for the first time. They were the top-ranked junior team in the country with an impressive 58-6-3-1 record in the regular season. In the QMJHL playoffs they lost one lone game before winning the title on home ice at the Halifax Metro Centre.
“It was really a special season,” said Russell. “It’s such a tough job because it’s such an emotional rollercoaster with winning and losing and last year only losing six games all season, winning became such a habit it was so enjoyable to come to the rink every day.”
It was also special because Russell and his team had to build the Mooseheads from scratch in 2009. That meant drafting well, making savvy trades and taking their lumps in the early years with a young team.
“It was difficult,” said Russell. “There were nights when my dad was throwing his hat at people in the stands. It was a tough, tough time. There’s nothing easy about a rebuild no matter if you have ownership on board and the coaching staff on board – it’s tough on everybody. Losing is difficult.”
But Russell showed the same kind of determination he did during his 10-year NHL career. He wasn’t the most skilled player on the blue line, but his work ethic and tenacity more than filled the deficit. His pro career started with the Chicago Blackhawks where he spent the majority of his career before being traded to the Colorado Avalanche for his final season in 1998-99.
A bad shoulder forced him into retirement and shortly after he joined the Mooseheads as an assistant coach, working his way up the junior hockey ranks. The father of two – Zack and Jake – moved back to Cole Harbour and became GM in 2008, which meant he’d get an earful from his neighbours.
“I’ve got to live here when it’s all said and done,” said Russell. “So I had to do the best job I could do and I’m proud of what accomplishments we’ve made. The motivation was really there to give it my all.”
Things came together in 2011, when Russell drafted both forward Jonathan Drouin and goaltender Zach Fucale in the first round of the QMJHL draft. He then added star centre Nathan MacKinnon in a trade with the Baie-Comeau Drakkar. All three players ended up becoming top NHL draft picks in 2013 with MacKinnon going first-overall to Colorado, Drouin third overall to Tampa Bay and Fucale 36th overall to Montreal.
People lined up by the thousands to watch the team bring both the Memorial Cup and President’s Cup home to Halifax for the first time. Something Russell says he’ll never forget.
“It’s very hard to describe the feeling that you get,” said Russell. “The feeling of accomplishment and self-satisfaction because you’re proud of everybody. It’s a great feeling when you have a plan and you stick to it and it works out for you at the end.”