When Sawyer Hannay was younger, he didn’t know much about Cam Russell. But he’s been catching up.
The Halifax Mooseheads rookie defenceman has gotten a crash course on what his head coach was all about during his 10-year playing career in the NHL in the 1990s.
“I’ve seen his videos on YouTube,” Hannay said. “It’s inspiring watching hard-nosed guys like that play.”
The 6-foot-4, 190-pound Hannay is wise to take notes. Russell, who played 396 games with the Blackhawks and Avalanche, was a defensive-minded rearguard who took care of his own end first and played with a rugged, physical edge.
Hannay is carving out a similar niche on Halifax’s blue-line.
“I feel I can learn a lot from him here, watching his old videos and listening to everything he has to say,” Hannay said. “I can pick up off it because that’s the player I want to be.”
Selected in the sixth round (106th overall) of June’s draft, Hannay was described by the Mooseheads’ scouts as a “rock ’em, sock ’em guy” who plays with “reckless abandon.”
While the 17-year-old isn’t tossing opponents around like ragdolls, he makes them pay a physical price. At the same time, he has made very few mistakes with or without the puck, playing smartly within his known skating limitations.
After spending the start of the season in the press box, he got a chance when injuries struck and has made it difficult for Russell to take him out of the lineup. He has a goal, two assists, 45 penalty minutes and is minus-1 in 16 games.
Russell acknowledged there are “a lot of similarities” between Hannay and himself and said the Moncton native was “a guy we zeroed in on and really wanted” at the draft.
He said Hannay’s steady, all-around play is no surprise, but his toughness — such as his willingness to go toe-to-toe with Cape Breton Screaming Eagles tough guy Ashton Bernard in Sydney — has caught him slightly off-guard.
“He’s becoming a known guy out there,” Russell said. “He’s getting extra room because he plays physical, plays in your face. He’s the kind of player we’re looking for.”
The Halifax Mooseheads host the Quebec Remparts on Saturday at 7 p.m. and Bathurst Titan on Sunday at 4 p.m.
The last-place Mooseheads, 5-20-2, are riding a three-game losing streak but have won four straight at home.
“We’ve been playing well at home lately,” said Hannay. “Hopefully that can continue.”