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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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NFL Analyst Shuts Down Viral Trent Dilfer Complaint

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(Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for Bai)

 

Yesterday, Trent Dilfer went viral across NFL media for his comments about Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.

Brady and Rodgers are often touted as two of the top-ten quarterbacks in NFL history, yet, Dilfer had a contrarian opinion about those two.

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However, one analyst quickly called out Dilfer, citing his career statistics as a major talking point.

Dilfer played in the league for 14 seasons, with his most notable achievement coming in 2000, when he led the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl victory.

However, his career stats are significantly less impressive than that of Rodgers and Brady, which has made many members of the NFL media question his journalistic integrity.

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In 14 years, Dilfer threw for 20,518 yards, 113 touchdowns, and 129 interceptions.

To put this into perspective, Rodgers has played in the league for 17 seasons, and he has thrown just 104 career interceptions, a full 25 less than Dilfer, who started in 110 fewer games than Rodgers has.

Brady, on the other hand, played in the NFL for 23 seasons and threw 212 career interceptions in 333 games.

That means, that, on average, Brady threw an interception every 1.5 games.

For context, Dilfer averaged one interception in each of his games and had a negative touchdown to interception ratio.

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As one might imagine, many are throwing these statistics back in Dilfer’s face, citing that he played in the league when Brady and Rodgers did but was unable to achieve similar success.

Dilfer’s credibility is being called into question, but this certainly isn’t the first time.

Will he continue to be an NFL media personality moving forward?

The post NFL Analyst Shuts Down Viral Trent Dilfer Complaint appeared first on The Cold Wire.





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NFL Insider Reveals Stunning Fact About Chiefs And Eagles

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Super Bowl 57 has the two best NFL teams facing each other for the biggest prize of them all.

While the path for the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles wasn’t easy, they made it to the Super Bowl.

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Both teams come into the Super Bowl as the number one seed from their conference, something that fans haven’t seen since Super Bowl 52.

While that fact is stunning, NFL insider Field Yates had another stunning fact about the Chiefs and Eagles.

He reveals how neither team trailed at any point during their postseason games.

With both number one seeds dominating their opponents in the playoffs, fans will see one team finally break.

While the Eagles are terrorizing opposing offenses, the Chiefs offense has been on fire this season.

However, the Eagles hope to exploit injuries to key players to maintain their status as a team who hasn’t trailed this postseason.

But doing this will require stopping Patrick Mahomes, the NFL’s top passer this season.

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While both teams come into the Super Bowl without trailing during the playoffs, the Eagles feat has been more impressive.

Their playoff games saw them allowing only one touchdown in each game.

While the Chiefs won by only one score in their playoff games, the Eagles only allowed one score in their games.

This edge by them might be enough to help them strike first against their opponent.

They will also hope this allows them to get a lead, and keep it, in the biggest game of their NFL season.

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The post NFL Insider Reveals Stunning Fact About Chiefs And Eagles appeared first on The Cold Wire.





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Sean Payton Talks About His Coaching Philosophy With Broncos

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The Sean Payton era in Denver is already kicking off with the new head coach digging into his job.

While Payton has been away from coaching for one season, he’s already getting back into the groove.

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During his interview, he let people know his coaching philosophy with the Denver Broncos and their roster.

For the veteran head coach, it’s all about evaluating players.

While the focus starts on quarterback Russell Wilson, he will also examine the other players on the Broncos roster.

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His philosophy is playing to the strengths of each player, something that gets lost with some coaches.

While those coaches focus on the flaws they find with players, Payton shows his coaching experience by having the willingness to work on players’ strengths.

He understands how every player has a unique skill set and can excel in certain positions.

While other coaches might keep weaker players in the wrong position, Payton finds their strengths and applies those strengths to the correct position.

This coaching philosophy has allowed him to find outstanding success as an NFL head coach with the New Orleans Saints.

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His 15 seasons of coaching the Saints saw him winning the NFC South seven times, while winning one Super Bowl.

He also has nine seasons of playoff appearances, showing why his philosophy can easily work in Denver.

With him and his plan in place, he can turn around a franchise that hasn’t been the same since Super Bowl 50.

The post Sean Payton Talks About His Coaching Philosophy With Broncos appeared first on The Cold Wire.





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