North Ayrshire Wild have secured the services of netminder John Russell for the upcoming Scottish National League (SNL) season.
The 36-year-old previously iced for Wild at the start of the 2017/18 campaign, before switching to Paisley Pirates.
Russell has been a standout performer for the Pirates and finished off his time with the club by claiming a winners’ medal in the SNL play-offs.
He says he is looking forward to embarking on new challenge next season and feels he has unfinished business with North Ayrshire.
“I’m excited to be joining the Wild and playing in an improved SNL,” he said. “I definitely had a hard decision where to play or if I was just going to concentrate on coaching this season.
“However, after a lot of dialogue I felt the Wild was the right fit for me. They are always looking to improve and I felt I owed them after leaving two seasons ago to join the Pirates.
“I know a lot of the players from my time there and I’ll have the chance not only to play, but help the younger goalies throughout the club improve.
“Pirates are a great club and I’d like to thank Ian Turley and Adam Walker for a hard but fun two seasons which ended with us winning the play-off trophy.
“The players in that team are incredible and work hard to better themselves. We weren’t the most talented team, but we had plenty of heart.
“Unfortunately, my work commitments meant another season at Paisley wasn’t really feasible.”
Russell recorded impressive statistics with the Pirates, helping the team claim second spot in the league for two successive seasons.
He joins a North Ayrshire side that showed plenty of improvement last term and is eager to help his new team continue to progress this time around.
“For this season I just want to improve my game and save pucks,” added Russell. “I’ll leave the team ambitions to the coaching staff as it’s nothing I can control.
“However, I would like to see the team dynamic work effectively and hopefully I can contribute to an already good team.
“I’ve led the league in save percentage these past two seasons, but the team in front of me had a lot to do with that.
“I’m under no illusions that doing that three seasons in a row will be difficult, but my new teammates will help towards that and I’ll not stop working and trying to achieve as close to 90% save percentage as possible.”
North Ayrshire enjoyed a solid 2018/19 campaign, finishing sixth in the SNL and reaching the final of the Stuart Robertson Cup.
Club chairman, Scott Campbell, is eager to see Wild kick-on this season and believes Russell’s signing is a huge coup for the team.
“We are obviously delighted to sign a netminder of John’s calibre and experience,” he said.
“It was disappointing to lose him a couple of years ago when we did, but having been away from the game for so many years, we understood that signing for the Pirates was an itch that he had to scratch.
“The Wild are a more experienced team than the one he left a few years ago, which was mostly young inexperienced U20s players.
“We have added some guys and those youngsters now have more experience under their belt, and I’m sure they are all looking forward to playing in front of John again.
“It’s a league where the bar is being raised every season, and we know we have our work cut out for us this season, but John’s experience is only going to help with that.
“Having him around is also going to be a great help to the development of our younger goalies, many of whom already know him well.”
Elsewhere in the SNL, reigning champions Murrayfield Racers have confirmed Andrew Wright and Ross Borwick have agreed another year with the club.
The Racers have also signed British-born Jack Wright from Villars HC in Switzerland and Karol Divok has been added to the roster after spending last season with Paisley.
Calum Hepburn and Lewis Houston have agreed a further year with Solway Sharks, while Ewan Anderson joins the Dumfries-based outfit from Kilmarnock Thunder.
Aberdeen Lynx have announced five returnees to their roster, with Callum Smith, Christian Johnson, Jordan Leyden, Iain Malcolm and Aaron Thomson all agreeing another year.
Lynx have also secured the services of former Swindon junior forward Alex Newman.
Scottish Cup holders Dundee Comets have boosted their forward ranks with the signing of Sean Beattie, while Adam Walker has signed for another year with Paisley.
(Image permission: Al Goold Photo)