With over 640 games and nearly 100 goals, Russ Cowley’s career with the Blaze spans 15 years. As well as playing, he has almost finished his PhD looking at fan response to transgression in sport at Coventry University.
For three seasons, he played alongside Blaze Head Coach Danny Stewart – how easy was it to make the transition from team mates to coach? “At the beginning it was a little strange,” explained Russ. “I think we’re both different people than when we played together – him as a coach and me as a player. We both have more experience. He handled things well when he came in and had meetings with guys that were coming back and told us what he was here to do. He also said what role he wanted me to fill as a player. For me, and the way I look at life, he’s the coach and that’s how I see him, regardless of me playing alongside him previously. I don’t look at him any different to anyone else in the room.”
Russ is known as being Mr Versatile. He is confident playing as a forward or as a defender, and has been known to switch during a game due to injuries. Is this an easy thing to do? Russ laughed, “I said I wanted to do one shift as goalie and then I have played everywhere! I think it’s tough when you swap positions. You have no time to get within your comfort zone within a position, you have to start thinking about all the set plays of what your job is, off any draw, in any zone and that’s whether I’m switching as a forward position or going back on the back end. You have to read the game as a D man to get a good gap between you and the rush that’s coming at you. Once I start playing in a position for a longer period of time it becomes easier because I get in the comfort zone, and get to know my line mates. Swapping a lot is tough, but like I say you get more comfortable being in one position. I’ve been playing defence since November now. I guess some players wouldn’t be able to do it, the way my head thinks as a forward I think defensively. I skate well and I can read the game as a D man well. After me, the only other person who could do that would be Robbo, but he brings so much up front. In the last few years, one of the things that helps this team and one of the reasons the club has me back is that I can go back there if we get injuries. I do prefer playing as a forward, but I’ve always been one of those players -if there’s a gap I’ll fill it.”
It’s been a busy year for Russ, as well as playing he’s been working hard to complete his PhD and had to fit in family time as well. He explained “It’s been tricky this year. I’ve noticed the difference, I rarely have a day off a week. Obviously, we have Sophia, so when Rachel has her commitments I’m being a Dad. Otherwise, I’m here at the rink or working. I enjoy being a dad a lot. The joy that a child brings, it’s amazing. At home, she loves hockey. If I stick hockey on something she’ll say ‘hockey, hockey’, and sit there and watch it with me. She loves coming to the games, she talks about hockey. If I wear something with the Blaze or GB logo, she gets excited. As soon as I’ve got my gear on she’s frightened. I’ve even taken my helmet off to show her it’s me. It kills me that she’s frightened of me in hockey gear – I was hoping to take her into the room, but I can’t. I don’t know if it because what she sees on the ice makes her uncertain. I don’t smell like daddy – that could be why she’s saying no altogether!”
As ever, conversations at this time of year turn to the future, both long and short term. Russ said, “I’ve played over 600 games for the club in 15 years, I’m looking at my options for the end of the season, as my PhD will be finished by then. I’m looking at going into consultancy probably, I’m taking a long look at that route. I have enjoyed the research side of things for my PhD, I guess there’s a lot of doors open for me now. While I’m not totally certain, we’ll see what happens. When I do decide to hang my skates up I haven’t said no in my head to maybe moving into coaching, but I’ve done ten years at University and I haven’t done that to not put that to use. But never say never to having something on the side where I can help out perhaps. There will be certain priorities that have to come first!”