As much as Wyatt Russell would like to be just another one of the guys in the locker room, he can't. Even with his goaltender's mask pulled over his face, and his body concealed by 30 pounds of equipment, he's the player fans in the crowd are whispering about.
Russell is the son of actors Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn. And thanks to the glamour associated with his last name, and the golf course friendship between his father and Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon, Russell, 18, finds himself in suburban Washington this week, participating in the Washington Capitals' annual developmental camp at their Piney Orchard practice rink.
Hanlon said he invited Russell to the camp earlier this summer while playing golf on Vancouver Island with Russell's father, who recently played Herb Brooks, coach of the gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic hockey team in 1980, in "Miracle." Their conversation turned to sports, then to hockey, then to Wyatt, who wants to someday play in the NHL.
"When you're in my position, you can sometimes do some people some favors," Hanlon said. "And this was one of them."
Russell is not considered a professional prospect. He was not selected in June's NHL entry draft and his credentials -- he plays for the Junior A Coquitlam Express in British Columbia -- are not the kind that normally earn a player a trip to an NHL camp.
But Hanlon said the Capitals needed a fourth goaltender at camp this week -- and Russell was available.
"I'm not here to make the team," said Russell, who stands 6 feet 1, weighs 170 pounds and shares his parents' good looks. "I'm here to look at what I have to do to progress. Last year, I proved that I can win [at the junior level]. I just need to keep progressing."
Russell's presence already has paid off for the Capitals in one respect. It has created a minor buzz among diehard fans following a dismal 2003-04 season during which there was little to cheer about. The front office traded most of the team's best players and many believe the NHL's labor woes will wipe out some or all of the coming season. Local television crews have lined up to interview Russell outside the Capitals' locker room this week.
It's not uncommon for NHL teams to fill out developmental camp rosters with local standouts and special invitees. In fact, the Capitals have several players in camp who are not affiliated with the organization, including Kyle Laughlin, the son of Capitals' television color commentator Craig Laughlin, and Garrett Roe, a promising 16-year-old from Vienna.
"Whenever you have room, you like to bring guys in," General Manager George McPhee said.
Russell comes from a family of professional athletes. His grandfather and father played professional baseball. And Kurt Russell's nephew, Matt Franco, spent several years in the major leagues. Wyatt Russell tried baseball, but gave it up after Little League because, he said, "it was too slow."
All it took to get him hooked on hockey was a trip to an ice rink when he was 3 years old.
"I didn't want to leave," Russell said. "My dad put me in a league in Los Angeles when I was four. I played mini-mites, and from there I just loved it. I started playing goal when I was seven because I figured the other team couldn't win if they didn't score. And I love winning. I wanted to be the one to stop [scoring chances]."
About two years ago, Russell advanced as far as a youth hockey player could in Los Angeles, where he played for the Jr. Kings, an elite travel club. To take the next step he had to move north.
It didn't take much convincing to get his parents to move to Vancouver so he could play for the Richmond Sockeyes, a Junior B league team.
"That was a really big commitment for my parents," Wyatt said. "I can't thank them for what they did for me. They put their lives on hold so I could play hockey at a higher level."
Russell's stock spiked significantly last season after leading the Sockeyes to the Junior B Provincial title and the silver medal at the Western Canadian Junior B Championships. With a league-best 21 victories and four shutouts, Russell earned most outstanding goaltender honors and was promoted to Junior A.
Although Russell admits he has much improving to do before he'll be polished enough to earn a shot at a scholarship to a top university or the chance to play professionally, he hasn't looked totally out of place skating alongside Washington's top prospects. Some of them, like Brian Sutherby, Boyd Gordon and Steve Eminger, have spent time with the Capitals. He's also faced shots from NHL veteran Jeff Halpern.
"It's tough to say how good he is until you see him in game action, with traffic in front," Halpern said. "But he's making saves look easy, and that's a good sign for a young goalie."
Capitals goalie coach Dave Prior said: "He's probably older than what most people would consider a prospect. It looks like he's going to need to advance to the college level. But one thing is for sure, he doesn't look in over his head, and that's important."
Russell's face reflects a little of both his parents, who could not be reached through their publicists. His Southern California upbringing is just as pronounced, and his surfer blond hair and laid-back persona contrast with the rough-edged Canadian and reserved European-reared players in Washington's camp. But Russell shares something in common with Chris Bourque, the Capitals' second-round draft choice a month ago who also has a famous parent -- hockey Hall of Fame inductee Ray Bourque.
"I guess Chris and I are kind of in the same boat," Russell said."Whenever we walk into a room, people say there is so-and-so's son. By now, we've both learned to deal with it. It's never a disadvantage. People watch us and pay more attention to us because of the name on our back.
"I love my parents, but I'm hoping to make a name for myself with my play," Russell continued. "Sometimes it's hard. But I can't change my name. That's my life, and I love it."
Asked why he chose to play goal, Russell joked: "It might be some weird psychological thing. I can kind of hide behind my mask so maybe people see you because of your play."
But his play isn't what anyone has wanted to talk to him about this week. The questions from television crews mostly have been about his parents' acting careers. He was asked which parent did a better job portraying a coach in a movie: Hawn in "Wildcats" or Russell in "Miracle."
"That's a tough one," Wyatt Russell said. "I guess I'll have to go with 'Wildcats.' It was funnier." When "Miracle" was being filmed in Vancouver last year, some of his teammates were extras and doubles. One of them had a non-speaking role. Russell declined an invitation to take part in the film.
"That's not my thing," Russell said.
College, in all likelihood, is going to be the next step for Russell, who graduated from Collingwood School in Vancouver last month. He said he'll probably take a course at a local college while playing junior hockey next winter, then enroll in college the following year. He said he's already heard from coaches at Colgate, Maine and Brown.
"I'm 100 percent positive this is what I want to do," he said. "In three years or four years, I want to be at this level."