- Hockey's most misleading advice-givers just want to put fun back in the game. They're getting help from some of the NHL's biggest stars.
When hockey players want advice on their games, they have plenty of places to look. There's a never-ending list of coaches, teammates and former players. When they want bad advice, possibly the worst of it, they turn to Jacob Ardown and Olly Postanin, the duo better known as the On The Bench crew.
From teaching NHLers to roll their wrists through a “greasy snapper” or to celebrate a goal with a javelin-like throw of a stick, the On The Bench guys have found viral success with their offbeat and often-beat-up brand of hockey instructional video. In their pursuit to teach some of the world's most skilled players the “fundies” of the game, the pair has taken many a puck off many a body part and the been the recipient of countless slashes, hacks, trips and cross-checks.
In one of their most well-know shorts, Jacob takes a close-range snapshot to the chest from L.A. Kings forward Tyler Toffoli, and for a few seconds, the cowboy-hat wearing, flannel-vested character tries to shake off the pain.
"That was also followed by about 20 minutes of wincing off-camera," Ryan Russell, the actor playing Jacob, says with a laugh. Almost everything Russell, 27, and his 28-year-old co-star Steven Campbell, otherwise known as Olly, who plays his hockey in cowboy boots and an old Jofa helmet, say—or do—is followed by plenty of laughter. The over-the-top on-camera routine is a somewhat-exaggerated version of their real-life selves. "If you hung out with us for even a weekend, that's literally our lifestyle. slapstick is who we are—the sarcasm, the quick wit, stuff like that. And it just seems to work for us."
Hockey fans seem to agree. On Twitter, the pair has more 21,000 followers, another 289,000 on Instagram, while they've racked up more than 110,000 likes on Facebook. The On The Bench YouTube channel has more than 23,000 followers and is closing in on two million views. Part of their appeal is a genuine rapport, something they've built over a lifelong friendship growing up outside of Calgary together, playing their minor and junior hockey together.
"Obviously their characters are totally played up, they're putting on a huge shtick," says Tyler Tierney, who co-owns social media management company MyShortz, which represents On the Bench, "but they are outrageously Canadian. It's hysterical. Even going on the road with them and you see them do certain things. They're arguing over who's Bagel Bites are theirs in the freezer. They really are funny."
It starts with their character. There's Campbell's Olly, a silk-handed former Bangladesh pro, and Jacob, a corner-dwelling mucker who spent his playing days in the Virgin Islands. Their embellished personas are supplemented by their outfits of old school hockey gear mixed with garb best described as 'Western Canadian Hockey Cowboy.'
"I think the outfits, we just based around the type of player that we were," Campbell says. "Funny story about the boots: When I bought them, I didn't know they were girl boots. I guess someone commented on the page that they're girl boots because their mom has the same pair."
And then there's the language. The pair has created its own vernacular.
"The ones like eppies and fundies and stuff like that, that's just classic hockey talk: cut a few letters off and replace with 'i-e-s' or a 'y,'" Russell says. "That's what we try and do, try to make it sound as dumb as possible and shorten everything and make it sound like a dressing room, basically."
The language has caught on—one simply has to look at the comments on any of their videos—even if they can't really explain what some of their favorite terms means.
"One of mine is Jacob's 'quinssentials,'" Campbell says, "which means absolutely nothing."
They even hear it coming from their bantam team, which wants to make sure its coaches saw their “greasy snappers”—that's right, the internet's worst coaches are in charge of teaching 10-12 year old kids the minutiae of the game in their real lives. In fact, their team was the impetus for their videos.
"We tried to put fun back into practice and add a little bit of fun and humor into it," Russell says. "We got the kids competing a little bit harder, trying a little bit more. We decided that we were going to film how stupid we are and we got lucky and it took off for us."
It's unclear who loves them more at this point: the kids they make the videos for, or the players who get to star in them. Marc-Andre Fleury visibly giggles throughout his. Jack Eichel delights in getting bad shooting tips. Connor McDavid fires pucks at a grape hung from a piece of dental floss for the made-up-on-the-spot Grape Chally. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn have trouble keeping it together in a game of two-on-two. Members of the L.A. Kings rifle pucks and throw hard body checks, seemingly with glee.
"One of the coolest things that's happened is Steve got hammered by Drew Doughty and received a concussion from the legend himself," Russell says. "That's probably the coolest thing in On the Bench history."
Russell and Campbell wear their literal bruises as medals of honor in getting the players to show a different side of their personalities that often doesn't get to shine through
"If you want to see the serious side and see them in their box that they're used to, just watch any of the interviews that they do on game days," Russell says. "We wanted to do the exact opposite and pull them out of their shell so everyone can actually see the type of people that they are."
"We thought McDavid was going to be shy and quiet. but as soon as we got there, he was ripping pucks at Jacob," Campbell says.
When they're not on the bench, literally or in character form staring down pucks shot off NHLers' sticks, Russell is an automotive technician and Campbell works in oil and gas ("Classic Albertan," Russell says with a chuckle).
"It's so evident to them not seeing it going this way," Tierney says. "Me and my business partner Rob have taken it more to a business aspect for them, doing a lot of collaborations with NHL players, traveling and this and that... it's funny, people will pay them to fly out and they'll be getting this good amount of money and they don't even care about it, they're so excited that Red Bull is going to send them a fridge of Red Bull."
While a mini fridge filled with energy drinks is no longer a pipe dream, Russell and Campbell are focused on bigger and better for their growing show. They've booked a trip to Abu Dhabi to play with Canadian expats. They dream of having the Great One come get some tips and to "teach him how to get in shape," Campbell says. Oh, and maybe even the legend himself, Justin Bieber.
While Tierney has high hopes for the future—a TV or movie maybe?—the On the Bench crew isn't worried about what comes next. Russell and Campbell are just concentrating on sharing their unique brand of lo-fi fun with anyone and everyone.
"I don't think we could really paint a picture of what's going to come next," Russell says. "We just want to make our way through the league and work with as many teams as possible be it the NHL, AHL, ECHL, all that stuff. We just want to make sure that the funnies are all over the world and take it back into rinks where the kids are at. Hopefully we can keep more people playing games and keep them in the sport. Just keep taking every opportunity that we can."