Russell joins Tech after being well-versed in the local area

Keith King/Record Eagle Traverse City Central's Marcus Russell controls the puck against De La Salle during a game at Centre ICE Arena.

HOUGHTON — Every so often, the Michigan Tech Huskies hockey program adds a player from the local area, someone who grew up facing off with the likes of Houghton, Hancock, Calumet and Jeffers high schools; someone who spent their time on the local rinks. In Marcus Russell, the Huskies did not add a local kid, but they did get the next best thing, as the Traverse City native grew up playing against the local kids.

That familiarity with the area was a big draw for him.

“I have been up north [a lot] when I was younger,” said Marcus. “When I was playing youth hockey, we would play against Houghton, Calumet and Marquette. I would be up north all the time. That was hockey to me when I was younger.”

Of course, having a school close to home that was interested in what he brings to the rink night in and night out helps as well.

“I thought it would be special to stay in Michigan and play up at Tech.”

While he did not have the opportunity to play at the John MacInnes Student Ice Arena as a child, he did get the chance to visit the rink, and that memory stuck with him as he grew up.

Russell, the son of former Michigan State star Kerry Russell, played for a high school coach many locals are very familiar with in Chris Givens while he was at Traverse City Central during his freshman and sophomore years. He learned a lot from Givens.

“I thought playing for coach Givens was a great experience,” said Marcus. “He was my youth coach all the way up. Playing at Central was an awesome experience.”

Russell learned a lot about loving the game from Givens and attributes much of that to the fact that Givens grew up locally in Hancock and found his passion for the game while playing it.

As a junior, Russell moved to Clarkston to joined Honeybaked and play for the U18 team. In his first season with Honeybaked, Russell played with Brown University forward Tom Marchin and Ohio State forward Brendon Kearney.

In 31 conference games, Russell scored eight goals and 16 points.

In his second season with the U18 team, he played alongside Anaheim Ducks prospect Max Jones and he served as team captain. In 18 conference games, Russell posted three goals and 13 points.

The experience was important for Russell in his development.

“It was probably the most important time in my development,” said Marcus. “I felt that I really started to play against good players. I thought it was awesome, a great time. I really got challenged while I was down there.”

While the 5-foot-10 Russell is joining the Huskies at the age of 21, he understands that his journey required more growth than that of Marchin, Kearney, or Jones.

“Everyone has their own path,” said Marcus. “It is awesome to think that these players you played with have moved on, but everyone has a different path and a different route.

“A lot of players take more time to develop. I think I definitely was a late developer, definitely needed some time to build up my strength since I am a slightly smaller player.”

In his first season of junior hockey, Russell made the trek to Salmon Arm to play for the Silverbacks in the British Columbia Hockey League. He played eight games alongside former Huskies goaltender Angus Redmond, scoring just one goal before he was traded to Alberni Valley.

With the Bulldogs, Russell scored eight goals and 12 points over 39 games as he saw more ice time.

The next season, Russell made the decision to move to the North American Hockey League and he joined the Topeka Roadrunners. In 56 games with the Roadrunners, he found his goal-scoring touch, picking up 18 goals, most of which came at even strength, in 56 games as part of a 25-point season.

Last season, Russell started with the Roadrunners, scoring 12 goals and 25 points in 28 games before making the jump to the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the United States Hockey League. With the Lumberjacks, Russell picked up five assists in 20 games before getting traded to the Sioux Falls Stampede, where he scored two goals and three points in 14 contests.

Bouncing around the junior ranks was hard, but Russell felt that it help mold him as a player and a teammate.

“I think that has helped me a lot, growing as a person as well as a player,” said Marcus. “I have seen a lot of different styles of play; seen the BCHL, the North American League, and then this last half the year, I was in the United States Hockey League. I think that has helped me just know and gel better with new teammates and know that different coaches have different systems and become more adaptable.

“It’s helped me become a better teammate and really kind of mold with guys easier. It was tough. It wasn’t easy. In the long run, it gave me more experience and actually made me a better player.”

Russell loved to watch former Tampa Bay Lightning star Martin St. Louis, and really tried to take a lot from St. Louis’ Stanley Cup run in 2004. Being a smaller forward himself, Russell found a kindred spirit in the diminutive superstar. He has also taken a lot from an up-and-coming Lightning center in Tyler Johnson. The Hockey News describes Johnson as a player who “skates incredibly well and can read the play in front of him with aplomb. With excellent hockey sense, he can be trusted in all situations.”

Russell’s young brother, Jon, is set to join Harvard next season, and Marcus hopes to get to see his brother at the collegiate level. It would not be the first time the brothers faced off; they played a couple of times last season when Jon was a member of the NAHL’s Odessa Jackalopes.

Russell’s locker room presence could be important to a relatively young Huskies’ squad that features 10 new faces this season with eight freshmen and two transfers as well as a new head coach. If he can find ways to chip in offensively, that will certainly help as well.