Great Britain men’s ice hockey coach Pete Russell says he didn’t think for a minute he would get the job – and admits he still pinches himself.
The Scotsman, from Ayr, took over from Canadian Doug Christiansen ahead of last season’s World Championships and almost grabbed promotion to the next division and the gold medal.
But with the Winter Olympic qualifiers for Pyeongchang just a matter of months away, Russell still can’t believe he’s been entrusted with the nation’s hopes.
He said: “I didn’t really expect it to be honest and there were far bigger names than me out there that would have been good appointments.
“It was really a big surprise and I was never going to knock it back. There wasn’t a lot of expectation on us, but we did brilliantly last season in the World Championships, just missing out on the gold medal.
“Whether they wanted me to do it for just a year, or ten years, I would do it. I’m so proud to do this job and it was a dream for me.
“It’s something I think everybody would love a shot at and now we’re looking ahead to the qualifying process for the Winter Olympics early next year, you have to pinch yourself a little bit.”
Russell’s appointment wasn’t so much a surprising one, but more one that made a lot of sense because of his work with the younger age groups.
He is Great Britain’s most successful junior coach and has won four golds, one silver and two bronze medals in 11 tournaments in charge of GB U20s and GB U18s.
Looking ahead to the Olympics, GB take on the Netherlands, Italy and Serbia as they look to reach the winter games for the first time since 1948.
It’s a stage in his career Russell could only have dreamed of as he started out as a young player turning out for his local team back in the early 90s.
The 41-year-old never quite hit the heights on the ice in those days and admits there are regrets over not reaching the potential he had.
But he told of how he fell into coaching, the buzz he got from it and the road it ultimately took him on which sees him not only coach the national team, but also English Premier League side MK Lightning.
“When I started out, playing for the Ayr Raiders back in the early 90s, I never really looked ahead to the extent where I’d find myself doing what I’m doing now,” said Russell.
“I suppose there’s some regret I didn’t really take it on, especially for my mum and dad, who gave me so much in support as I played.
“But I enjoy doing what I’m doing now in coaching and I enjoy the management side of it. As long as I get to be involved in ice hockey, then I’m happy to be there.
“Getting into coaching wasn’t something I expected as I worked with Jaimie Longmuir and Paul Heavey with the Ayr Scottish Eagles.
“The juniors had a few coaches and I started to help out behind the scenes. Next thing I knew I was coach of a team before I was given a job as a coaching coordinator for the young teams.
“Looking back, it was a great opportunity, although I didn’t realise it at the time and that’s how I got into coaching. I had to work hard at it and I learned a lot at that time.
“I worked with Cardiff Devils and Swindon Wildcats before becoming involved with the GB Under 18s team, which was lucky on my part.
“Steve Nell gave me my chance at the Wildcats. We maybe didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, but I learned a lot from him and it made me realise how hard you had to work.”
The last three years has seen Russell coach at the Okanagan Hockey Academy in Swindon before being given the opportunity to take the reins at Lightning.
Thoughts of what may lie ahead for the GB team couldn’t be further from the Scot’s mind as he aims to mastermind his new charges to some kind of success.
He’s open to the idea of coaching in the Elite League, should an opportunity come his way, and believes his thinking as a coach has changed because of his experience at Okanagan.
Russell said: “Everybody asks me if I would like to coach in the Elite League, but it’s a hard league for a British coach to get themselves into.
“Paul Thompson, the Sheffield Steelers coach, is the obvious exception, but I’d love the challenge if the opportunity was to come my way.
“I’m pleased to be where I am just now of course and I’m loving the job at Milton Keynes. We’ve started well and we’re trying to do things a little differently there.
“I think a lot differently to the way I used to and that’s down to the positive experience I had in working at Okanagan.
“It’s a long season, but we’ll see happens. The Elite League is a challenge for anyone that wants to do it and I’m no different, but for now I’m focused on MK Lightning and achieving success with them.”
(Image permission: IceHockeyMedia)