Russo steps into leadership role
Josh Dulany | Wednesday, December 10, 2014
As the first half of the season draws to a close, Irish senior defenseman Robbie Russo is leading the young team in scoring and is relishing his extensive role on and off the ice.
On the ice, Russo is logging enough minutes that he said teammates have been a little worried about him.
“A lot of the guys ask me if I’m tired, but I just kind of always laugh and say no, not really,” Russo said.
Still, the defenseman said it would be nice to hit the refresh button over the course of the two-week break the team has.
“It’s definitely good to get a bit of a break and reset,” Russo said. “We’re here for the next two weeks. First thing is to take care of school, but at the same time, we want to rest up a bit and stay fresh. Coach [Jeff Jackson] is definitely making sure we’re staying in shape. We’re skating and just maintaining game shape, and hopefully that will give us an advantage going into Florida.”
Russo and the Irish (8-8-2, 4-2-2 Hockey East) will be in Florida over Christmas, leading up to the Florida College Hockey Classic, where they will open with Miami of Ohio on Dec. 28.
The Irish head into the break coming off a strong weekend against Massachusetts. Russo was a large part of the team’s success as he logged two goals and three assists over the weekend. His three assists all came in Friday’s third period as he helped lead the Irish to a five-goal third period in their 7-5 comeback victory. On Saturday, Russo lit the lamp twice to bring his goal total to seven on the season.
“The intensity went up a little bit this weekend,” Russo said. “Everything just happened so fast, especially Friday, when I think we scored four goals in six minutes. It just kind of happened really quick, and it all came together for us.”
Individually, Russo’s exploits earned him Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week honors.
When asked about the importance of the weekend’s strong showing for the team as a whole, Russo said there was no doubt that it was a much-needed turnaround from Notre Dame’s recent play, which had seen a stretch of nine games without a regulation win.
“I definitely think it was a good note to end the first half on,” Russo said. “We had a lot of pucks go in the net, and we had some bounces go our way, and it’s something we can build off of. Getting back to .500 was big for us. Being under .500 this late in the year is not something anybody likes or anyone is used to around here, so I think these wins were big. Our first half was a little up and down, but you look at our record, and it’s pretty good. We’re sitting pretty high in the league right now.”
As a defenseman, Russo’s team-leading point totals are especially noteworthy. He said the sterling results are due his active focus on remaining aggressive throughout the game.
“I have to play aggressive all over the ice,” Russo said. “Offensively, that’s a little easier for me, using my vision to jump into the play. Defensively, I’m just trying to finish as many checks as I can and play physical in front of the net. I feel like I’m attacking more even though I’m playing more. The more minutes I get, I just keep attacking — it’s not like I’m just trying to sit back and relax for the minutes I’m out there. I’m always trying to be assertive and do what helps us win.”
Off the ice, Russo is looked to as a leader of a team that has 11 newcomers and is still finding its way halfway through the season. Right now, Russo says he is focused on helping the team have a break that is competitive and focused while still enjoyable.
“It’s good to get out there and compete versus each other and battle a little bit,” Russo said. “ It should be a lot of fun. It’s a good time; it’s four-on-four, and we mess with each other a bit and just have a good time as teammates trying to help each other get better.”
Russo drew a lot of attention last year for his inability to be on the ice for the Irish. Now, it’s his play on the ice and his leadership off it that have the Irish poised to be in position to contend in Hockey East over the course the season’s second half.