By Chris Langrill
The Idaho Statesman
BOISE, Idaho – This is how sporting events usually work: Fans pay attention to players. But sometimes at Idaho Steelheads games, the roles are reversed and the players’ attention turns to the fans, or one fan in particular.
That would be Russ Cash, who attracts attention by donning one of his 300-plus game-worn hockey jerseys every time he shows up at Qwest Arena.
Rookie Travis Wight joined the Steelheads this season after playing four years at the University of Maine.
One night early in the season, Wight was sitting on the bench when teammate Lance Galbraith poked him with an elbow and pointed across the ice.
There was Cash, sitting in the stands, wearing a familiar jersey.
“At first, I said, ‘Why does that guy have a Maine jersey on?’ ” Wight recalled. “Then I realized that it was my jersey. That’s my No. 5. And the guys just said, ‘Yeah, that’s Russ.’ ”
Later, Wight got a chance to meet Cash, who actually bought Wight’s jersey before the young defenseman joined the team.
“He just told me he loved my jersey,” Wight said. “I’m like, ‘You’re a nut. My parents don’t even have a Maine jersey.’ “
Cash, 45, admits his collection has gotten a little nutty. Two long rows of jerseys crowd a room in his basement. The collection has grown to the point that he is decorating another bigger room.
“When I started this, I didn’t intend to go this far with it,” said Cash, who is the owner and operator of Directional Hearing Aid Services in Boise.
He said he started with a couple of jerseys that were worn by a few of his favorite Steelheads.
Then, one day he typed in “game-worn hockey jerseys” on Google.
“It was like a whole new world opened up to me,” Cash said.
Soon, his collection was bursting at the seams. Literally. All of Cash’s jerseys are game-worn, and many of them show the scars of battle, with dried blood still splattered on some and glaring holes and patchwork sewing efforts keeping others intact.
His collection includes about 75 Steelheads jerseys and a number of college sweaters. He likes the number 13, so there are plenty of those in the collection. He also likes gritty players and proudly points out various jerseys that have holes in the elbows from battles in the trenches.
Cash isn’t hard to miss when he wears his jerseys to Steelheads games. He’s been parked next to the opponent’s penalty box since the franchise started in 1997.
“When I heard they were coming, I was like the fourth person in line for tickets,” said Cash, who lets his presence be known as the other team’s players make their way to the box.
“Everyone knows where he sits,” Steelheads veteran Marty Flichel said.
“I’m always looking at the penalty box, and I always see him standing there,” Steelheads coach Derek Laxdal said. “He does a good job of ribbing the other team.”
Cash loves to hunt for hard-to-find jerseys, and Laxdal was the subject of one of those hunts that ended successfully. He tracked down a jersey that Laxdal wore while playing with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“The team got it framed for me for my 40th birthday last year,” Laxdal said.
Cash has become friends with many of the Steelheads, and most of them know the story behind Jeremy Yablonski, a Steelheads player. He’s played in just one NHL game, with the St. Louis Blues, on Dec. 30, 2003.
Cash put his resources to work and once again came through with another hard-to-find relic.
And, once again, he gave it up.
“It’s amazing,” Yablonski said. “He gave it to me for my grandpa, and I was able to give it to my grandpa before he passed away.”
“He was Yabo’s biggest fan,” veteran Steelhead Scott Burt said. “And that’s a special jersey.”
Cash’s gesture of kindness still resonates with Yablonski. “It was something I will never forget,” Yablonski said.
“When someone does something like that, you can feel it in the heart.”