Medical student Russell: Strikers job ‘helps me unwind’
As a third-year medical student pursuing a respiratory therapy degree at L.A. Valley College, Kainoa Russell is an extremely busy person these days, but that hasn’t kept him from continuing the role he started in a few years back as the junior varsity coach for the El Segundo Strikers in the L.A. Kings High School Hockey League (LAKHSHL).
The way Russell looks at it, his studies bring plenty of stress into his life, and while coaching requires his time and commitment, being on the ice with his players is a welcome distraction. He has always loved hockey, and to be able to share that passion with young players who are also excited about the game makes it all worthwhile.
“It has been quite a wild ride, and I have put in a ton of clinical hours in various hospitals, but I am looking forward to earning my degree in May,” said Russell, 29, who is now in his fourth season coaching the Strikers. “Coaching actually provides a way for me to detach from all the stress in my life. Getting out on the ice really helps me unwind. While it does take up some of my time, hockey has always been a part of my life, and I wouldn’t want to not coach now that I’ve been doing it for a few years.
“It’s really a good thing to be busy.”
It hasn’t hurt that the Strikers are off to a stellar start to the 2019-20 season. Through mid-January, the Strikers led the LAKHSHL junior varsity division with a perfect 10-0 record. There was still plenty of work ahead for them, though, as the West Ranch Wildcats were nipping at their heels with a 9-0 record, and the Burbank Cougars were right behind them at 8-3.
“We had a great team last year that made the playoffs and this year, I feel I was lucky to have the majority of those players return,” Russell explained. “That has led to a lot of continuity, and we’re on a good little roll right now. I’m really proud of the boys.”
The Strikers’ junior varsity roster includes Larry Klingaman, Evan Davis, Stephen Jacoby, Matthew Keller, Brett Wilkinson, Nathan Howard, Lucas Green, Cathal McKeown, Dominic Aluisi, Oliver Maclean, Adam Rytz, Pierce Mayer, Ryan Campbell, Matthew Lennon, Tyler Stickney, Henry Griffin, Aidan Thornton, Jack Dawson and Jake Edwards. The team draws players mostly from Mira Costa, El Segundo, Redondo Beach and Palos Verdes high schools.
Chris Rhodes is the assistant coach. Russell said he and Rhodes play well off each other, and he feels he has a terrific group of players who are willing to do what it takes to achieve success on the ice and improve every single day.
“Chris has been great, especially with the goaltenders,” Russell said. “There’s a very good balance between us, and we have a great group of players.”
Russell said his coaching philosophy is relatively simple. He starts the season seeking to earn the respect of his players and fellow coaches, and in turn learns to respect each individual player and find ways to motivate them and the team as a whole.
“I think everything begins with respect, and I believe that if I let the kids know at the beginning of the season that I’m looking to earn their respect, they respond positively throughout the season,” Russell explained. “I’m a big believer that leadership starts at the top, but I also want them to know that I can learn from them just as much as they can learn from me. If we can problem-solve together, it can lead to some great relationships, and the kids end up respecting one another a lot more.
“It can lead to a lot of success over the course of the season.”
— Greg Ball
(Feb. 5, 2020)