Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Herbert "Bert" Russell - A Big Rough Brute

One of the near-misses in terms of 1890s players who merit induction into the Hall of Fame from the last post is Herb (or Bert) Russell. As promised, each player mentioned in that post will eventually be profiled here. So here's some information on Russell, who played both left wing and defence, in both Ottawa and Pittsburgh, from 1892 to 1902.

Russell was a gifted scorer and playmaker, a diligent checker, and a rough, physical forward very much unlike the stereotype of the era's players, who we think of as slight, quick little men. Paul Kitchen, in his book Win, Tie or Wrangle, describes him thusly:
Described by a Quebec supporter as “a big rough brute,” the Geological Survey draughtsman was more like a charging bull than a water bug when he got hold of the puck ... His best effort came in January 1894, when the scored all Ottawa's goals in a 5-1 win over the Montreal Victorias at the Rideau Rink. His ten goals that season tied him for the scoring title with Quebec's Dolly Swift, one of the most prolific players of the time. Though Russell could mete out thundering bodychecks when he felt so inclined, he was sometimes reluctant to use his size and strength to full advantage. Surprisingly fast, he rushed the puck well and shot accurately. He was also unselfish, preferring to pass to an open teammate rather than trying to score himself. And he followed back diligently.
So it seems Russell was a multi-talented player who had no particular weakness. A look at his Point Allocation record reveals only one truly exceptional season (1895), but with many others in the "merely" very good range. It seems he also "lost it" quite quickly at the end of his career, when he was a part-time player in the Western Pennsylvania league after the turn of the century, when he dipped below the level of a replacement-level player. We are missing a couple of seasons (1897 and 1898), where he might have been playing somewhere (but more likely living somewhere that no game was available), and this apparent period without playing high-level hockey might have contributed to his rapid decline in Pittsburgh.

1892Ottawa GeneralsAHAC148018852.
1893Ottawa GeneralsAHAC18020001.
1894Ottawa GeneralsAHAC68016005.
1895Ottawa GeneralsAHAC68016008.
1896Ottawa GeneralsAHAC66012002.
1899Pittsburgh DuquesnesWPHL2671675-
1900Pittsburgh BankersWPHL222550-0.8-0.60.0-1.4-2.55
1901Pittsburgh DuquesnesWPHL2401000-1.80.6-0.2-1.4-1.40
1902Pittsburgh BankersWPHL161500.1-

Russell is the type of player whose value is really revealed by the Point Allocation method. He was not one of the absolute best players, but he was pretty close, and it's a shame that he is not better-known today.

And, of course, here's a rendition of the Ottawa sweater Russell is wearing in the above photo:

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