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Neil Russell is hoping to go down a Storm in ice hockey

By Ian Callender

Instonians will have to do without their captain, Neil Russell, for the final weeks of the season as he is taking up a new job in England.

Russell has accepted the position as general manager of the Manchester Storm, a new ice hockey franchise which will be playing alongside the Belfast Giants in the Elite League next season.

Although he takes up the post at the start of next month, Russell will travel back each weekend to play for and captain Instonians up to and including the game at Carrickfergus on August 22, but with pre-season hockey games starting the following weekend ahead of the start of the League at the beginning of September, Russell will be unavailable for the Shaw's Bridge side's final two scheduled games against Civil Service North and North Down and, of course, any outstanding games to be rearranged.

Talking about his new appointment, Russell said: "It was too big an opportunity to turn down. It gets me into sports management, which I have always wanted, and down the line it will hopefully give me the opportunity to come home and work with Ulster Rugby or, ideally, Cricket Ireland."

Russell has been the voice of the Belfast Giants for the last three years having been a fan from game one back in 2000. A close friend of long-time general manager Todd Kelman, Russell was invited to do the Q and A with the fans and now co-hosts and commentates on the matches for Giants Live TV.

"I also commentate and host on the Elite League for Premier Sports and Setanta since last year when they got involved in the Champions Hockey League. So that is my passion, although it doesn't go down well with some of my cricket friends. One actually comes onto Twitter at the beginning of September and says see you next April and unfollows me to avoid my hockey tweets!" he added.

Russell remains a proud captain of Instonians and although he lives 100 yards from the North Down club in Comber, where he played since the age of nine, he turned down the offer from close friend and North Down chairman Peter Shields to return this season.

"I will undoubtedly finish my cricket there but having just won the title with Instonians, there was no way I could have left them," said Russell.

Instonians are currently joint top of the Ulster Bank Premier League but only five of the 14 games have been played and only four points (one win) separate the top four. Andrew White will take over as captain next month and the club will be praying for a dry August so Russell will miss only two games.

He said: "The top four teams have now all lost one and the league race is set to go the wire. Many people say CIYMS are the favourites but in my mind Waringstown are still top quality and the team that finishes above them will win the league."

All Russell can do is make sure Instonians are top before he heads off for a winter in Manchester and pastures new.

Belfast Telegraph


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