Forward Jon Russell leads the Amarillo Bulls in goals in his first season with the team. He’s also wrapped up best piano player by a mile.
“You have like all of these emotions with hockey,” Russell, 19, said. “It can go really well or it can go bad and it’s kind of fun to have a different avenue that’s not sports or something that you can go to to kind of release some of the emotions or tensions that you have built up.”
Russell has been skating since around the age of two when his father, a former hockey player at Michigan State, first strapped on a set of skates to his second oldest son. Russell began taking piano lessons in the second grade at the urging of his mother. It wasn’t until middle school when his passion for the instrument took off, thanks to a music teacher that encouraged him to swap out the classics for the contemporaries.
“People may think they’re pretty and nice but nobody sings along,” Russell said of the classical music that most young piano players are forced to learn. “I kind of like playing music that people enjoy.”
That sentiment doesn’t really sound like it belongs to a future Division I hockey player.
“No disrespect to our players but we’re tough, tough guys,” Amarillo Bulls first year head coach Rocky Russo said. “And not necessarily known for some of the other things away from the ice that Jon is so unique for.”
“It’s definitely a fun thing to pull out and be like ‘Hey I can do this and I’m a hockey player.'”
An athlete with a second talent outside of the arena may not be a new concept, but very few get to reveal the talent in such a shocking manner like Russell did earlier this season. Before the team’s dueling piano charity event, Russell informed his coaches he could actually play the piano a little bit and when the time came, sauntered up to the stage and played Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” as the crowd sung along.
“It kind of took a lot of people by surprise,” Russell said with a grin. “Yeah, you feel pretty good about yourself after.”
His coach can attest to the surprise in the room.
“You could hear the mumbling in the room and a ‘Is this kid really this good?’ and then he took off. Even the guys that were hired to play the piano that night were kind of blown away.”
Home for Russell is Traverse City, Michigan and Amarillo is Russell’s fifth city in three years, part of the process of the youth hockey system. But, no matter where else the game takes him or how far from home he is, the music stays with him.
“Moving away from home I was 15 and I couldn’t bring my piano with me obviously but I still wanted it,” Russell recanted. “So we found a $50 keyboard at a garage sale and I still keep it to this day and with me because it’s just something I love doing.”
The keyboard will travel with him next year to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Russell is committed to play hockey for Harvard.