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Kris Russell, the Oilers’ prince of pain, orbits history after changing his game

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What do they give Kris Russell when he officially becomes the all-time National Hockey League leader in shots blocked Saturday night in Vegas?

A sterling silver ice bag?

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

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He is the prince of pain, and should wear a ‘C’ on his chest — not for “Captain,” but for “Courage.”

“I came in as kind of an offensive guy,” began Russell, who needs two blocks to get to 1,999 and pass Brent Seabrook for the all-time lead in shots blocked, a stat they began charting for the 2005-06 season.

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

“I tried that in Columbus, tried working my way up trying to be that same player. Things had to change,” the 34-year-old said. “I wasn’t playing as much, and then I got traded to (St. Louis), and they kind of put me in more of a defensive role. I just grabbed it, trying to do anything I could to play Top 4.

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“It bought me a few more years. I’m thankful for it.”

This is the story of an under-sized country kid in search of something he could do better than all those academy kids and big-city players. Something that could buy 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 those (predominantly) rich kids did not? What could he do to, as he says, “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 folks that gave us figure skater Kurt Browning, and the Bros. Vandermeer, as tough a hockey family that has ever cracked a cold Canadian in a cinder block change room.

In Calgary, there were four jobs up for grabs behind Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie. The coach was Bob Hartley, who was all about shot-blocking. “I thought if I could bring that to the table I could jump into the Top 4,” Russell said.

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He is small — five-foot-nine, maybe 5-10, 170 pounds. What he’d never have on the rest of the NHL was size and strength.

But his pain threshold? That, he would discover, was perhaps the one thing the good Lord gave Kris Russell that very few others could match.

“I’ll be the first to admit,” said Zack Kassian, as burly a man as gears up in the NHL, “when I block a shot — if I ever do — it hurts, bad. I’d rather take a punch in the face.”

Kassian is tough, but not in the same way as guys like Niklas Hjalmarsson, Dean Kennedy, or Lee Fogolin — who once extracted his own filling on game day with a hotel curtain hook.

Russell is country calm. Quiet, with a panic level as low as a proverbial snake’s belly in a wagon rut.

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

Russell comes by it honestly. His father, Doug “Shaky” Russell, was a bull fighter who worked four Canadian Finals Rodeos as that guy who jumps into the face of the bull after he’s bucked off his rider. Sometimes he’d slap that bull — which weighs between 1,200 and 2,000 lbs. — right in the kisser to divert its attention from the fallen cowboy.

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

Upon the occasion of passing Seabrook and likely becoming the first to log 2,000 blocks Saturday night in Vegas, Russell was asked: Whose puck hurts the most?

“I took a few,” he mused. “(Shea) Weber always has that heavy one. They were loading up Dion (Phaneuf) in those early years there. So, yeah, there are some big boys who can really lean into ‘em.”

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What’s the worst shot to block?

“Guys who are in those flank positions on the powerplay,” he said, “because you don’t have as much time to react to it. It’s kinda like, you’re gonna take it where you’re gonna take it. Those are the tough ones.”

By nature, Russell’s teammates have been keeping closer tabs on his pursuit of the record than he has. Those who under-value shot blocking have never been around NHL players, or known the appreciation they have for a guy who sacrifices the way Russell has for 889 games.

“They’re usually the ones checking the game sheet to see how many I have,” he admits.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

Tonight, for career game No. 890, Russell will be a top pairing defenceman 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.

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Tippett has always been a bit skeptical about stats like hits, giveaways and takeaways, criteria that tends to change with the different off-ice stats crews from building to building. “But when a guy blocks a shot,” he said, “he blocks a shot. And Kris Russell has been doing it for a looong, time.”

As for those who pooh-pooh shot blocking, well, maybe they should step in front of a piece of vulcanized rubber flying at around 90 mph some time. Just to get a taste for what “meaningless” feels like.

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





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South Carolina vs. South Carolina State prediction, odds: 2022 college football picks from expert on 14-1 roll

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The South Carolina Gamecocks look to remain perfect in the all-time series when they host the South Carolina State Bulldogs on Thursday. This game was originally scheduled for Saturday but it was moved to Thursday evening due to concerns surrounding Hurricane Ian. South Carolina (2-2) won both of the previous meetings between the schools at home, cruising to a 38-3 victory in 2007 and a 38-14 triumph two years later. The Gamecocks are coming off a 56-20 win against Charlotte on Saturday, while the Bulldogs (1-2) lost 41-27 at North Carolina A&T in their last outing.

Kickoff at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC is set for 7 p.m. ET. The Gamecocks are 39.5-point favorites in the latest South Carolina vs. South Carolina State odds from Caesars Sportsbook, while the over/under for total points scored is 55.5. Before making any South Carolina State vs. South Carolina picks or college football predictions, you need to see what SportsLine college football expert Mike Tierney has to say.

A veteran sportswriter whose work appears periodically in The New York Times and Los Angeles Times, Tierney has converted college football of all levels for decades. He has emerged as one of SportsLine’s leading analysts in all sports and is 13-10 on his last 23 against-the-spread college football picks.

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What’s more, he has a keen sense for the trajectory of the Gamecocks. He is 14-1 in his last 15 picks involving South Carolina, returning almost $1,300 to $100 bettors.

Now, the Tierney has set his sights on South Carolina vs. South Carolina State and just locked in his picks and CFB predictions. You can visit SportsLine now to see his picks. Here are the college football odds and betting lines for South Carolina State vs. South Carolina:

  • South Carolina vs. South Carolina State spread: Gamecocks -39.5
  • South Carolina vs. South Carolina State over/under: 55.5 points
  • SC: The Gamecocks haven’t posted back-to-back wins since starting 2021 with a 2-0 record
  • SCS: The Bulldogs have allowed 106 points in their first three games this season
  • South Carolina vs. South Carolina State picks: See picks at SportsLine

Why South Carolina can cover

The Gamecocks have won 35 of their last 41 home games versus non-conference opponents, including triumphs over Georgia State and Charlotte this season. They are 38-12 overall in their last 50 non-conference games, with seven of the losses coming against Clemson. The team also has enjoyed tremendous success versus schools that currently do not reside in a Power Five conference, posting a 51-4 record in such contests since 2001.

South Carolina ran for six touchdowns in last week’s victory against the 49ers and already has matched its total of rushing TDs in 2021. MarShawn Lloyd registered half of the team’s ground scores on Saturday and has five on the season after notching one in 11 games last year. The sophomore, who also has a receiving touchdown this campaign, more than doubled his output of 75 rushing yards over his first three outings of 2022 by gaining 169 on 15 carries — both of which were career highs.

Why South Carolina State can cover 

Quarterback Corey Fields came up with one of the best performances of his career in Saturday’s loss to the Aggies, throwing for 316 yards and four touchdowns. The senior has made four TD tosses in two of his last four outings, also accomplishing the feat in the Bulldogs’ 31-10 victory against Jackson State in last year’s Celebration Bowl. Fields’ favorite target was junior wideout Shaquan Davis, who hauled in six passes for 127 yards and extended his streak to five straight games with a TD reception dating back to last season.

South Carolina State will be hoping for a better effort on the ground as it rushed 22 times for only 12 yards versus North Carolina A&T. Coach Buddy Pough is optimistic about the availability of Kendrell Flowers, who made one catch for six yards but did not have a carry in last week’s contest due to an undisclosed injury. The sophomore running back is averaging 6.5 yards per rushing attempt this season after recording 153 and two touchdowns against Bethune-Cookman on Sept. 10.

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How to make South Carolina State vs. South Carolina picks

Tierney has analyzed this matchup, and while we can tell you he’s leaning Over on the point total, he also has discovered a critical X-factor that has him jumping all over one side of the spread. He’s only sharing what it is, and which side to back, at SportsLine.

So who wins South Carolina vs. South Carolina State? And what crucial X-factor makes one side of the spread a must-back? Visit SportsLine now to see which side of the South Carolina State vs. South Carolina spread you need to jump on Thursday, all from the expert that has crushed his college football picks, and find out.



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Michigan vs. Iowa D, a key Big 12 showdown, more we're watching in Week 5

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Can Iowa shut down the high-powered Michigan offense? RJ Young and Laken Litman preview Week 5 of the college football season.



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Drew Timme Q&A: Talking with Gonzaga basketball's All-American senior

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Gonzaga All-American Drew Timme on why he decided to return to school, his quest for the title and more.



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