League honors its founding father
Elite League players are wearing helmet stickers this season to honor John Russo, the league's founder who passed away last April. Photo by Loren Nelson, LegacyHockeyPhotography.com
As helmet stickers go, the oversized "JR 2002” versions being worn by Upper Midwest High School Elite League players this season are impossible to overlook — just like the man they were designed to honor.
John Russo’s tireless efforts to form the Elite League included securing approval from Minnesota Hockey and the Minnesota State High School League. Starting in 2002, the league’s inaugural season, Russo, a larger-than-life character with a deep passion for hockey, spent 12 years immersed in almost every facet of the league’s operation — from game-day logistics to marketing to player recruitment.
“Without him this league wouldn’t have happened,” Tadd Tuomie, a 17-year coach in the league, said about Russo, who passed away in April.
Last weekend Tuomie asked his players to put the sticker — it displays JR in big, bold letters with the numbers 2002 underneath, the script surrounded by a red circle — on the back of their helmets. He then spent a few minutes telling them about the man who brought the league into existence.
“I told them about my interactions with John, that he was kind enough to let me in the league as a coach — even though he had his doubts about me,” Tuomie said with a laugh.
“He was a teacher to the very end. The last time I saw him, he was out on the ice pushing the puck around, teaching his grandkids how to play hockey.”
Under Russo’s watch the Elite League became a haven for the region’s most talentedf players who want to stay home, play against top competition in front of NHL scouts and Division I college coaches and maintain their high school hockey eligibility.
Also in recognition of John, the Elite League is proud to announce the presentation of The Founder’s Cup, to be awarded to the league's playoff champion.