PHOTO CRED: Michael Hetzel
Even if she didn’t win the fan vote, you can bet Rebecca Russo would have been representing the New York Riveters at the NWHL All-Star Game in Pittsburgh because, after all, she is the team’s leading scorer, holds the league lead in assists (9) and is third overall in the league in points with 12 in 11 games.
“I first got the email from (NWHL commissioner) Dani (Rylan); I was so excited and at home with my roommates (Courtney Burke and Amanda Kessel),” Russo said after a weeknight practice, explaining how she found out about the selection. “With me being a rookie, and coming to tryouts, making the team and then going on from there to be successful in the first half of the season - with the help of my linemates.”
“I think it’s a little bit more special that I got elected by the fans, they saw something in me that they really enjoyed and I try my best out there for the fans and the little young girls. That was once me looking through the boards onto the ice saying: I want to be that girl.”
All of this comes after Russo was an undrafted rookie after finishing her collegiate career with Boston University last season, and had to win a job at the NWHL Free Agent Camp that was held in Newark, New Jersey - the same rink she suits up for the Riveters in now.
“It’s definitely extra special that they would vote for me,” she continued to explain with a smile. “Whether that’s my family members, my teammates, those young fans…just fans in general. I’m so blessed and honored to be voted in by them. It’s super special that they wanted to vote number-18 Rebecca Russo; the little, short number-18 from Westport, Connecticut. I’m fortunate that they wanted to see me, in the All-Star Game in Pittsburgh.”
Russo has been a key cog in the Riveters offense on a line with Alexa Gruschow (who also earned a contract at the same free agent camp) and Madison Packer (who also was voted into the All-Star Game by the fans) and their line has been a constant threat throughout the first half of the season. “It’s kind of funny that we both got here through the camp,” she said, “and now we’re teammates, which is kind of cool. We talked a little bit then, and little did we know that head coach/GM Chad (Wiseman) would be offering us with spots (on the Riveters).”
If you remember an article we did a few weeks back on Russo’s teammate Miye D’Oench, she joked about being a New Yorker and a New York sports fan while she attended Harvard. While D’Oench seemed like she wouldn't boast her allegiances too loud, Russo was at the other end of the spectrum in those situations.
“I’m definitely a Yankees, Rangers fan so when I went to games I was always getting chirped with my Yankees hat on,” she said while grinning. “But I didn’t really care because usually, we came out on top, which was nice.” As a big baseball fan and moving to New Jersey to play hockey, Russo found a second job that combines her love of sports - with baseball and hockey.
“I started working for the MLB Network in August during baseball season with their media and production team, working with game highlights and doing those kinds of things. Once the hockey season came about I transferred to the NHL Network, which is in the same building in Secaucus, New Jersey; so, I’m kind of doing the same thing for them. I love baseball but there’s nothing better than doing hockey highlights all night long. They’re nice enough that they work my schedule around this (NWHL) schedule - the days we practice I don’t work or if we are traveling for a game.”
“It’s a great start, a great place. I want to be a sports broadcaster in the near future so it’s definitely a starting point for me.” Considering how things have started with her professional hockey career, we wouldn’t doubt that Russo will be successful in anything she pursues. She’s always, always smiling, and her enthusiasm and personality are infectious, which is something easily noticeable if you are around her for only a few minutes.
“There’s not really a time where I’m not smiling, which is my personality,” Russo said with a laugh (and smile obviously) when we asked about her getting the contract offer to sign with the Rivs. “I was in shock, I was with a few of my friends on a vacation/graduation trip. I was so happy and I remember group texting my family and they weren’t out doing errands, and wouldn’t respond to my text.” She eventually got through to them with the big news.
“I cried, it was so surreal. When I was at Shattuck and committed to Boston University it was like: alright let’s play four years of college, do your best and obviously the Olympics are always in my mind; that was kind of the end-goal for all of us. When this (NWHL) came up, it was something to look forward to. It’s definitely one of my top-ten moments and I was smiling from ear-to-ear; definitely tears of joy.”
That’s why when you see Russo, whether it’s on the ice for pregame warmups, or during a game, off the ice, doing postgame interviews, or meeting fans, taking pictures with and signing autographs for them - she’s always smiling. You know immediately that this is a young woman who is passionate about what she does, she’s confident in herself and her presence in this league is a great asset for everyone involved.
“There’s always rough patches; the WNBA went through kind of the same thing as us. This is something for the young girls that I’m doing this for; I was one of those players looking at the Olympians, or even looking at the NHL guys saying: I want to be that when I get older. I’m playing for the girls that want to be in this league, we’re making a name for ourselves as women and I think that is huge in the hockey world because guess what? We’re doing just what the men are doing,” she said confidently.
“The fact that we meet with our fans after every game says something I think. The fact that there are so many fans out here waiting for us, even though we take so long in the locker room, I’m sorry about that,” she said with a laugh and smile. “It’s awesome just to see, especially the little kids that have my jersey on, or my t-shirt on…I mean…I’m like speechless when I see that. I mean, I have a (Martin) St. Louis jersey in my closet and little girls now have Russo jerseys in their closets…I’m taken aback by the fact that we have that much affect and impact on these little girls.”
Rebecca Russo gets it, just like the rest of the players in the league get it. This is about laying the foundation for something bigger and better for future generations. And the league and its fans are fortunate to have her being a part of it, smiling all the way from Westport to BU to the Riveters and soon to be smiling in Pittsburgh with the best of the best stars in the NWHL.