Cam Russell showed he means business on the weekend.
The Halifax Mooseheads head coach and newly-minted general manager dropped leading scorer Yuri Cheremetiev to the fourth line for long stretches and broke up the red-hot Euro Line in a bid to reward his hardest working players.
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Russell hasn’t been a big in-game line-juggler since being named head coach in 2006, but early signs indicate this could be the most visible on-ice change in approach since the Mooseheads fired GM Marcel Patenaude two weeks ago.
Is this Russell coaching how he wanted to coach all along?
“You can read into it any way you want, but from now on, guys who are ready to play and compete are going to play, no matter who they are,” Russell said on Sunday.
Russell said he plans to juggle his lines during games far more than in the past, at least when it’s necessary.
“Yeah definitely,” Russell said. “You’ll see a lot more of that. If guys are playing hard, they’ll play.”
Rookie fourth-liner Ned O’Brien, who lit it up in the pre-season but has toiled in anonymity since, was the beneficiary of Russell’s new approach, joining Jan Stransky and Tomas Knotek on the top line in Cheremetiev’s absence.
The Mooseheads (13-30-5) are back on the road this weekend against the Val-d’Or Foreurs on Friday at 8:30 p.m. and the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. They also visit the Montreal Junior on Monday at 8:05 p.m.
Defenceman Justin Pender (abdominal strain) is scheduled to return to the lineup on Friday, but forward Eric Louis-Seize (shoulder) is likely out another week.
O’Brien is day-to-day with a bruised thigh and may miss time.