Noah Russi may have grown up in Parksville, but there is no question where his hockey heart now resides.
The 18-year-old defenceman was named the second captain in the history of the Nanaimo Buccaneers before their home opener last week, taking over from the departed Quentin McShane.
Russi played the first half of last season with the rival Oceanside Generals, but quickly acclimated to the black and yellow of the Bucs and established himself as a leader in the dressing room during camp.
"It's an honour, it's such a great organization," said Russi. "I can't wait to lead these guys to some wins.
"It's a great group of guys and Brad (Knight) is an awesome coach, so it's pretty easy to come here and fit right in and take a leadership role."
For Knight, Russi's selection became an obvious one, citing his style of play and work ethic.
"Because he plays the game pretty hard, he has the ability to gut-check guys and he's got the ability to call guys out," said Knight. "I also think he's played fairly well. He has struggled in a couple of periods and we still like the way he has led by example."
Joining Russi in the captaincy roles are Lee Orpen, Jonathan Speer and Garrett Dunlop, who have all been named alternates.
"Orpen and Joe Speer, the conditioning of both guys I think shows you how they care. They both came to camp in phenomenal shape," said Knight. "Garrett Dunlop, his absolute will to win and desire to be No. 1 is what you want in that particular role."
This is not the first time Russi has worn a letter. He had an 'A' on his sweater last year in
Oceanside before being dealt to the Buccaneers. He also has captained his lacrosse teams while growing up in Parksville, including his midget team that won provincials.
But this did not play into Knight's decision to hand him the top leadership role on the Buccaneers.
"In the short term,, what's wrong with our sport is that we are so worried about where he played last year as opposed to how he's playing today, and we try to focus on where he's playing today," said Knight. "For all intents and purposes, we should have a kid from Nanaimo to be captain, but this is not political, this is what makes sense (to have Russi as captain)."
Russi solidified Nanaimo's backend after joining the club last year, and helped them during their playoff run to the VIJHL North Division final, where they ultimately fell to the Comox Glacier Kings in six games. He finished the season with 23 points (four goals, 19 assists) with 61 penalty minutes between in 44 games between the two clubs. In the playoffs, he added another eight points (1-7-8) in 10 games.
He is a realist about his hockey career. The Ballenas Secondary School grad understands he may only have another year or two left. He may go after an NCAA Div. III scholarship, but he plans to focus on school next year.
It makes his goal for this year pretty straight forward.
"I really want to win a championship this year, it's probably my last," he said.
The Bucs (2-0-0-0) host the Generals (0-1-0-1) tonight at 7:15 p.m., a rematch of Nanaimo's 6-4, third period comeback on Saturday in Parksville.
The rivalry with the Generals is one that has started to grow, but is rooted in a natural conflict between athletes between the two cities.
Russi is one of two Parksville products on the Nanaimo roster - joined by goalie Ryan Waldhaus. He is well versed in both sides of the fight, and says it goes well beyond hockey.
"There's always been a rivalry from Parksville lacrosse and it's translated right to hockey too," said Russi. "It's fun to just go out there and battle and obviously get the wins."
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