As much as he strives to be the best and most complete hockey player he can be — getting chosen in the NHL’s 2023 Entry Draft next June would be a dream, he admits — Cam Russo is equally focused on becoming a better person, mentor and role model.
When he and his family stepped onto the campus at Brown University in Providence last month for a visit, all of the things that he holds near and dear to him seemed to coalesce.
It didn’t take long for the 17-year-old standout forward from Middleton to realize this is where he wanted to spend his college years, both playing Division 1 hockey and being a student and member of this renowned Ivy League community.
“The campus, the people, the coaching staff, it was all just unbelievable,” said Russo. “Honestly, my family and I were just blown away. Right off the bat it felt like home to me.”
‘Felt like home’
Russo, who played as a true freshman at St. John’s Prep before transferring to Governor’s Academy in Byfield (where he’ll begin his junior year next month), made a verbal commitment to play for the Bears on August 1, the first day that high school juniors were eligible to do so via NCAA rules .
“I first heard from them in early February when (assistant) coach Jason Smith called and said I was the first guy in my class they had talked to. Right away, I thought that was pretty special,” said the 6-foot-2 Russo, who has added 10 pounds of muscle this summer, putting him at 190 pounds. “When I went down for my visit, they not only had me and my parents (Jay and Kerri) but also my grandparents ( Ed and Joan McKelleney), which I thought was awesome.
“The education is obviously top tier,” Russo continued, “but what really stuck with me about Brown was the (head coach) Brendan Whittet and his coaching staff. Brendan was amazing; my family and I loved him. He spoke volumes about how prestigious Brown is and what it means to represent the school and be a part of it. The whole staff are just unbelievable people; they take pride in connecting with you as more than just a hockey player, but the whole person.
“I also met (senior captain), Luke Krys, and he was so personable and easy to talk to. My mom said to me ‘He’s just like you’, and I felt so, too.
“It was great to see how well rounded the guys on the team were and what a special place the college itself is,” said Russo. “Knowing I’m going to be part of that culture is very, very exciting.”
Russo had a strong sophomore season for Governor’s last winter, helping them go 8-1-1 down the homestretch and reach the semifinals of the Piatelli/Simmons (ie, Small School) Prep School Tournament. The right-handed shot finished with 10 goals and a half-dozen assists in 28 games for head coach (and Danvers native) Brian McGuirk’s club.
“I feel like I’m a totally different player now than when the last season started,” said Russo, the oldest of the four brothers. “Playing at such a high level against older kids turns you into a much more well-rounded player.”
He’s been busy hockey-wise since then, too. A seventh round draft pick (95th overall) of the Dubuque (Iowa) Fighting Saints of the United States Junior Hockey League, he went to the team’s training camp in St. Louis in June, acquitting himself nicely. A week later he was off to Amherst, NY for USA Hockey’s Select 17 Player Development Camp to measure up against the top players his age group in the country.
In addition to lifting and skating five days a week this summer, he was also one of the few North Shore guys to make the hour-plus drive to take part in the prestigious Foxboro Summer Prep League, playing for Team (Ian) Moran. This coming season, he’ll skate with the Little Bruins U18 split-season team out of the Eastern Junior Hockey League before suiting up for his junior year at Governor’s.
“We’ve got a special, great group of guys at Gov’s coming back and I think it could be a big season for us,” said Russo. “I’m excited about the possibility of being drafted by an NHL team next year and of course of going to Brown down the road, but I’m focused on our team and helping us win as much as we can next winter.”
Along with his progression on the ice comes his continuation as a role model in his own right — not only for his own siblings, both also for his younger Governors’ teammates. He looks to one of his former St. John’s Prep teammates, defenseman Jack Gilligan of Salem (now playing for Bowdoin College) as a perfect example.
“The way Jack conducted himself on and off the ice, it was always team first with him. He’s such a class act,” Russo said of Gilligan, with whom he’s been working out with this summer. “That kind of leadership is what I want to bring to Gov’s this season.”
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