Hockey organist Russel Ebnet motivates with music

Meghan Joyce, Chief Visual Editor

Hockey games are loud affairs; symphonies of hockey sticks hitting ice, pucks hitting plexiglass, skates screeching to a stop, shouting spectators, the booming voice of the commentator, and the whistles of the referees — each sound clamoring for the ear’s attention. Perhaps the most distinct sound, though, is the musical talent of organist Russell Ebnet.

At every St. Paul Academy and Summit School home game for the United Girls Varsity Hockey team, Ebnet is responsible for keeping the crowd excited and engaged using his Minnesota Wild sticker covered keyboard and vast library of CDs.

“I’ve been doing the music here at SPA for 11 years,” Ebnet said. “I’ve done other schools, Blaine High School, Coon Rapids [High School]. I’ve done junior hockey teams, like the Kodiaks, the Owls, and I did junior tournaments as well… I’ve been doing this for about 28 years.”

“He’s always really happy when we’re walking in, he’s always smiling. He just gives off this really good energy. Whenever we’re doing warm ups, we’ll be going right next to where he does the sound stuff, and he’s always smiling and laughing,” junior A.M. Roberts said.

Ebnet still remembers in his youth “listening to Sue Nelson [currently the organist of the Minnesota Twins] when she used to do the North Star [Minnesota’s former hockey team, where Nelson first played the organ starting in 1981] games,” he said. “She’s what got me started, she always intrigued me with the cheers she had done… She’s always told me, ‘you’re very talented, don’t stop,’ and encouraged me to keep going.”

Sometimes, it was hard to keep going. In 2008, Ebnet was diagnosed with Type II diabetes. Dealing with the disease has not been easy for him, he lost a toe as a result of it (though he jokes that with or without ten toes, he is ready to strap on his skates and get on the ice at the occasional practice). Around the same time as his diagnosis, his father, a role model whose lessons about having strong character continue to shape Ebnet’s life, passed away. He decided to retire, ending his years-long career at Rainbow Foods.

But he kept playing the organ for United.

“I get the crowd going. It’s like cheerleading, it’s just a good upbeat… I do CDs or organ music, I have my iPod here, but I forgot the plug in, so I’m kind of reserving auxiliary power,” Ebnet said. “And when the puck drops, I quit the music.”

“I like it when he plays ‘Ice Ice Baby,’ that’s a good one,” Roberts said. “I started [playing hockey] when I was four years old, but I just started with United this year… we didn’t [have an organist at her old school], so I really like the music between shifts.”

“I just have fun coming down here… and they like what I do here. It’s like being at the Xcel Energy Center, it brings a lot to the game,” Ebnet said. “They gave me a jacket…. I’m part of the team.”