August 31, 2015

Church Russell

Church Russell was a Memorial Cup star, leading the Winnipeg Rangers to the national junior championship in 1943. He was a good goal scorer and a very clean player - only twice in his entire junior and professional career did he reach double digits for an entire season's penalty minute total.

His pro career was put on hold by World War II service, followed by a slow start in the minor leagues.

In 1945-46 Russell really found his way as he starred with the New York Rovers on "The Atomic Line" with Cal Gardner and Rene Trudell. They wowed sold out Madison Square Gardens crowds. Gardner, who went on to become a very good NHLer, led the way with 41 goals and 73 points in 40 games. Russell was right there behind him, with a team best 43 assists and 70 total points in 38 games.

With the Rangers struggling to make the playoff, manager Frank Boucher called up the entire Rovers top line for nearly 20 games. However The Atomic Line didn't do so well, especially Russell who had just five assists in 17 games.

In 1946-47 Russell redeemed himself with a 20 goal season, which tied him for second most on the Rangers team. But in 1947-48 he got off to a horrible starting, going goalless in  19 games before the Rangers demoted him to the minor leagues, replaced initially by George "Wingy" Johnston. Russell would return briefly when an automobile accident sidelined four Rangers players including Buddy O'Connor.

Russell left with 20 career goals and 36 points in 90 total NHL games.

In the book We Are The Rangers, Cal Gardner gives his insight as to why Church Russell did not last long in the National Hockey League.

"What happened was that Russell - who looked so good as a Rover - just couldn't cut it in the NHL and it had a lot to do with the fact that the game was rougher up there and Church got a bit 'puck-shy.' Or, as they like say when a player doesn't want to get hurt, 'Russell started to throw a little snow.' He was a good guy and a good hockey player but he got a little scared of the body contact and that cut his Rangers' career short."

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