Leg­end of the score­board

She has had the best seat in the house for 40 years

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - SCOTT RADLEY The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor

CHANCES ARE, YOU’VE NEVER SEEN HER. If you have, you’ve likely never paid any at­ten­tion to her be­cause her job is just about the def­i­ni­tion of anonymity. Even though she’s had the best seat in the house at all the city’s big­gest hockey games and other events for 40 years.

She’s seen the Bull­dogs win the Calder Cup from the front row, Gret­zky pass to Lemieux in the Canada Cup from the front row, Ben John­son run in his come­back race from the front row and …

“Ron Ma­clean FaceTimed me in bed one time,” Eve­lyn Rus­sell laughs.

Strange, but OK. We’ll get back to that.

In the mean­time, let’s just say four decades of op­er­at­ing the score­board at FirstOn­tario Cen­tre and other rinks in town have given the 53-year-old — every­one calls her Ev — a unique per­spec­tive on sports and this city.

Rus­sell was 13 and just about to en­ter Hill Park Sec­ondary School when she got her start. Quite by ac­ci­dent.

Al­ways ath­letic and a sports junkie, she’d been the first girl in Hamil­ton to play baseball (rather than softball) sev­eral years be­fore. Her par­ents had filled out the spot on the reg­is­tra­tion form where the player’s first name went with Ev, and or­ga­niz­ers ap­par­ently as­sumed she was a boy. When she showed up, there was some sig­nif­i­cant con­ster­na­tion about her gen­der.

“They wouldn’t let me play

play­offs be­cause I was the girl,” she says.

She was also a hockey fan even though there was no hockey for girls. Only ringette. So she would hang around Moun­tain Arena watch­ing games and look­ing for a chance to get on the ice and skate.

At some point along the way, the trainer of the Hamil­ton Moun­tain A’s ju­nior team no­ticed her and of­fered her a job. They had no scorer or score­board op­er­a­tor. So for $15 a game, she did both.

“I al­ways made a point of stay­ing away from the play­ers,” she says. “I didn’t want that stigma of be­ing a puck bunny.”

By the time Copps Coli­seum opened in 1986, she’d done games for the Steel­hawks and the Kilty B’s. All the while sit­ting be­side pub­lic ad­dress leg­end and her now-best friend Bill Stur­rup. When he was asked to han­dle the mi­cro­phone at the new down­town palace, he made clear that he came as a pack­age with Rus­sell at his el­bow.

From Day One, she’s been there for all but a cou­ple games a year. She’s done the world ju­niors, the Me­mo­rial Cup, the Canada Cups, the NHL off­site games and pre-sea­son games, the four-on-four tour­na­ment dur­ing the NHL strike, the Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor In­door Games and more. She did the out­door game at Ivor Wynne Sta­dium.

A few weeks ago, she did the Her­itage Cup lacrosse cham­pi­onship. Her first-ever lacrosse game. “Learned it on the fly,” she chuck­les. The only sport the bak­ery man­ager at the An­caster Costco — and owner of a pet duck named Web­ster whose photo proudly serves as her phone’s screen saver — hasn’t worked at the place they used to call Copps is bas­ket­ball. Once upon a time, she was asked to do Ti­cats games. Baseball at Bernie Ar­bour, too. She turned them all down. Too busy.

She’s got hockey. Lots of hockey. Which, by the way, in­volves more than just turn­ing the clock off and on and post­ing penal­ties.

Not all that long ago, bench-clear­ing brawls were still oc­ca­sion­ally a thing. But back then, there was only one ref­eree on the ice. So she and Stur­rup were sup­posed to take note of any player who came over the boards to join a scrap and re­port him to the of­fi­cial.

Af­ter one big fight, the ref came to the scorer’s box and heard that a cer­tain Hamil­ton Steel­hawk had been the first to jump. The guy was promptly tossed from the game, caus­ing fiery Hamil­ton coach Bill LaForge to quickly reach two or three lev­els past irate.

“We thought we were go­ing to get fired on the spot,” she says.

It wasn’t the only mo­ment she wouldn’t mind for­get­ting.

There was the game a few years ago dur­ing which the clock wouldn’t start. Then once it started, it wouldn’t stop. Not her fault, but she knew every­one in the build­ing thought the per­son run­ning the thing was an idiot.

There was the night Ron Foxcroft was hav­ing his new Fox40 whis­tle tested dur­ing a Bull­dogs game. This was his ad­vanced de­vice that turned off the clock ev­ery time it was blown. Which was brilliant ex­cept the ref that night had an un­for­tu­nate habit of con­stantly blow­ing softly into his whis­tle dur­ing play to keep it warm. Stop­ping the clock again and again and again.

And there was the evening in which the horn went off ev­ery time she started the clock. Fans be­ing deaf­ened by the un­end­ing din loved that one. “Turns out a mouse had chewed on a wire,” she laughs.

But the gig has also in­tro­duced her to a lot of peo­ple. That trainer at Moun­tain Arena who first of­fered her the job? Years later, he be­came her husband. Scouts, re­tired play­ers, coaches, me­dia mem­bers and oth­ers have grown to know her and now say hello.

One night af­ter hav­ing surgery on her foot, she was tak­ing the es­ca­la­tor down to her rink­side box when Wal­ter Gret­zky saw her. Al­ways friendly, he made a big fuss in front of every­one on the es­ca­la­tor be­hind her. “I’ve got to sign your cast, Ev,” he said. And Ma­clean. When she didn’t show up for Hockey Day in Hamil­ton last spring, she got that FaceTime call from the host of “Coach’s Corner” ask­ing where she’d been. It was a lovely ges­ture, if a lit­tle awk­ward to take while ly­ing in her bed.

Of all she’s done and seen, though, one thing re­ally stands out.

When she started this gig 40 years and more than 5,000 games ago, there were no other women do­ing what she did. Not that she saw, any­way. It was a man’s world.

Today, there are plenty. That makes her happy.

The only thing miss­ing? Over all the years, all the con­certs at the down­town arena haven’t needed a score­board op­er­a­tor or time­keeper. So, no front-row seats for those. She smiles at the thought. “That’d be nice, eh?”

Eve­lyn Rus­sell, pic­tured at a Bull­dogs game re­cently, has been score­keep­ing lo­cal hockey for 40 years.

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