03/18/2015 02:29 EDT | Updated 05/18/2015 05:59 EDT

Hockey player Kris Russell emerges as shot-blocking star

This wasn't supposed to be the Calgary Flames' year.

Picked by many experts to finish at the bottom of the NHL standings, the Flames are still in the thick of the playoff hunt.

The Flames are young and relatively small, but one reason for the team's surprising success boils down to courage.

Three of their defencemen — TJ Brodie, Dennis Wideman and Kris Russell — are in the top 10 in the league for blocking shots.

For the second season in a row, Russell has thrown his body in front of more shots than any other player in the NHL. He's on pace to break the current record of 273 blocked shots in a season. 

The 27-year-old says getting in front of the puck is just part of the job in today's NHL.

"As soon as I see you lean in that's when I am coming across, that's when I am going stick to stick or that's when I am going down on a knee."

And Russell is already breaking records this season. Earlier this month, on a cold, snowy evening in Boston, he blocked 15 shots, the most ever in a single NHL game. To put that number in perspective, the entire Bruins team blocked just 10 shots that night.

"It was just one of those games where it was just finding my stick or my body, it's not like I was keeping track or trying to break a record, it was just one of those nights," said Russell.

Considered undersized at five feet 10 inches tall, Russell was a long shot to even make the NHL. He relies on a combination of courage and hard work to thrive in the league — traits he learned growing up in Caroline, Alta., where he was coached by his father, a former rodeo bull fighter.

"Growing up on a farm I don't know if that stems from it but I would rather block a shot than have a bull chase me," said Russell.

Hard work is one of the reasons Flames coach Bob Hartley says he named Russell an assistant captain this year.

"Farmer boy, you know they milk cows, pick stones, you know he is a good farm boy turning into a warrior for us," said Hartley.

Veteran Dennis Wideman, Russel's defence partner, is also a prolific shot blocker, sitting fifth in the league. But Wideman says Russell has a real gift for getting in front of the other team's shots. 

"He has a knack for finding the puck through guys and timing his blocks and he blocks a ton of shots. There are times when I miss it and I turn around and he has blocked it. He is great at it and it's great for our goalies," said Wideman.

A seemingly endless series of bumps and bruises is the price for taking a run at the NHL's most painful record, but it's one Russell says he is happy to pay. 

"It's just kind of reaction, but you hope it hits you in the right spot for sure."