citylife

On the bench

Story and Photos by Britton Ledingham

The story begins as any heartwarming saga should.

Two best buds make a pact to better their lives on New Year’s Eve and then begin the craziest year of their lives.

Steve Campbell and Ryan Russell, better known for their internet-famous personas, Olly Postanin and Jacob Ardown of On the Bench (OTB), can’t believe where the last 18 months have taken them.

On the Bench was just kind of a creation of wanting to put fun back into the game”

“If it ends today, the stories are worth more than their weight in gold,” says Russell, who is also a decade into a career as a mechanic with Cam Clark Ford.

“The experiences that we’ve been granted, and seeing so many people smiling because of us, is worth more than any amount of money.”

Their contentedness in the midst of struggle and seemingly instant success is impressive.

“My manager told me she would never hold me back from any opportunity,” says Russell. “In return, I work as many hours as I possibly can.”

At the time of our interview, Campbell is working at Tesco in Calgary, where he often finds himself behind the wheel of a forklift in the warehouse.

One thing is clear as we speak – the overlap of their characters and their true personalities.

“I’m just a grinder,” says Campbell of his role in the warehouse.

“Don’t you break a lot of sh-t?” asks Russell.

“Yeah, I break a lot of stuff. We use forklifts, and I just like to go,” says Campbell. “I’ve only got one gear, just fast.”

With no goals for the future, they’re along for the ride wherever it takes them, which has been mind-blowing so far.

Their first video eppie (episode) was shared on Jan. 28, 2017, during the NHL all-star weekend. Roughly 10 videos in to their prolific posting, the boys struck comic gold on April 14, 2017.

At 10:30 p.m. they uploaded the “No ice no problem” video to Facebook that immediately went viral. It caught fire as overnight 500,000 people viewed the vid of Russell and Campbell destroying their roughly $5 cheap skates in an effort to give some tips on the fundies (fundamentals) of skating. Meanwhile, they slept. They woke up baffled.

“That’s something I’ll never forget,” says Russell of overwhelming support of the clip of them skating on the concrete of the Bayside outdoor rink. “We weren’t even going to film that, [but] we were bored and bought some skates and it sparked and took off.”

Their OTB Facebook, Instagram and YouTube accounts have been on a skyrocketing climb of followers and views ever since.

Soon they went from posting videos of smashing each other’s coffee cups and poorly ripping pucks off plywood to similar content with higher-profile subjects.

TSN gave them their first travel opportunity to interact with NHLers in Toronto during Wayne Simmonds’ charity ball hockey tournament with videos posted around July 10, 2017.

The OTB boys got to meet the Philadelphia Flyers forward and fellow NHLers Drew Doughty (LA Kings), Darnell Nurse (Edmonton Oilers), Joel Ward (San Jose Sharks) and Josh Ho-Sang (New York Islanders). Most notable of the bunch for Russell was Doughty.

The excitement is still heard in his voice as he retells the story.

“I said straight up, ‘It would be an honour to get a concussion from Drew Doughty,’” recalls Russell. “And then we were filming with him, and [Campbell] got a concussion.”

Campbell felt the consequences for two weeks, but shook it off as what was the worst injury the duo had suffered at the time of the interview early in 2018.

“It was pain, but I’d do it again,” he says. “We do take a beating.”

Russell says NHL players generally ask if they should tone down their intensity of hits, to which the OTB boys will respond, “Let’s see what you got.”

“We’re taking pretty much full-on body contact from NHL players, and we get up pretty much every time so far,” says Russell with a laugh.

Russell notes that Marc-André Fleury (Las Vegas Golden Knights goaltender) got him good with his stick in the family jewels while demonstrating how to mess with an opponent screening a goalie’s view.

“I should have [taken] a cup on that trip, but I didn’t,” says Russell. “My mom’s always wanted grandkids, but might have to adopt for those ones.”

The NHL nod and other highlights

In August, Olly and Jacob partnered with the Los Angeles Kings for a series with Jeff Carter, Kyle Clifford and Tyler Toffoli.

“We owe a lot to the Kings for doing that,” says Campbell, noting that opportunity solidified their standing with the NHL.

Since then, many current and past NHL greats have busted their chops while the boys try to teach them a thing or two about the game. Around the anniversary of their first post, they were filming their first “senior citizen eppie” with legend Jeremy Roenick during the 2018 NHL all-star weekend in Tampa.

“Everything we’ve done is something we’ll never forget,” says Campbell.

Both claim the EA Sports advertisement with Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid was their favourite eppie.

Travelling to Dubai in December 2017 was another milestone.

“They treated us so well down there,” says Russell, noting he wouldn’t have likely visited the Middle East without the OTB opportunity.

With a growing list of places visited, the two graced Toronto, Montreal, Minnesota, New York, Connecticut, Detroit, Chicago, Phoenix and Tampa in their first 12 months of being Olly and Jacob.

“Coolest part [is] the numbers you get,” says Campbell, noting he has yet to meet his biggest idol, Sidney Crosby. “I haven’t been all girly yet, [but] it’s going to happen.”

They might claim stupidity, but there’s something genius about what they’ve done so quickly. The reality has far out-reached their original vision of getting some free stuff and maybe selling some branded merchandise.

They’ve done that and more, often selling out their merch and expanding their offerings from phone cases to shirts, jerseys, mini sticks, hats and more.

“It’s pretty wild to see people wearing your brand; I never thought that would happen,” says Russell.

With the younger demographic in mind, the duo cut back on vulgar content early to be kid friendly.

“We knew it was the right thing to do,” says Russell, noting they deleted some videos that didn’t meet the standard. “You can trust that our videos are going to be clean. Nobody’s getting hurt except for us.”

Campbell thinks that’s been the secret to success, as other hockey humour media has hinged on being rough around the edges. The kind gentlemen of OTB have taken the time to respond to comments from thousands of fans as they have risen to fame.

“The least you can do is say thank you,” says Russell. “Time is the most valuable thing.”

A decade-old friendship

Rewind 10 years: Russell was 17 when he met Campbell, who is a year older, at the skateboard park along Main Street near Nose Creek Park.

“Unfortunately [we] became friends,” Campbell jabbs.

A bond was struck over riding the concrete surf, and as summer turned to fall, Russell encouraged Campbell to play junior B hockey together with the Airdrie Thunder. After their junior careers, the two continued playing beer-league puck in Calgary and Airdrie.

Campbell started coaching peewee in Airdrie three seasons ago with Roger McDonald, and Russell joined in the fall of 2016, both following McDonald up to the Airdrie Lightning bantam AA squad for the last two years.

Coaching the kids led to the impetus for beginning the creative, humorous outlet that is OTB.

On the Bench was just kind of a creation of wanting to put fun back into the game,” says Russell. “We noticed a bunch of the kids training like seven days a week … the fun seemed to be drained out of the sport.”

So, on New Year’s Eve 2017, the duo made a pact to change their lives and do what they could to make the sport enjoyable again.

“[We] came up with On the Bench based on the fact that Olly and Jacob never see the ice,” said Russell.

“Everything just came together at the perfect timing, from the names to the outfits,” adds Campbell.

Then there’s the hair.

“We were both going to do lip sweaters,” says Russell. “So I shaved my chin off, and I stopped and just looked at myself in the mirror and I laughed and was like, ’This is it.’”

Back on topic, Campbell turns philosophical.

“Who can say they get to live a dream with their best friend?” asks Campbell. “Not many people, right? We’re pretty fortunate.”

As for a legacy, he wants people to remember the fundies, as the game can get boring.

“I love the game so much,” says Campbell. “It’s taken over my life since I was three.”

Russell just wants to help people be happy.

“Leaving behind a smile is the most important thing,” says Russell, recalling stories they’ve been told of people walking away from committing suicide after having their moods changed by the humorous videos, or a story of a war-veteran viewer aided in coping with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“To get those kind of messages warms your heart,” says Russell.

“It’s also motivating as hell,” adds Campbell.  “It’s surreal. We’re honoured.”

Campbell recently stopped working at the warehouse to focus on his social media career. The sponsorships may not be quite enough to completely make the jump, but a new job may not be as flexible, so it’s time to make a go of it for Campbell.

The duo had some down time from NHL-related gigs during the playoffs. They recently did more commercials with Budweiser, EA Sports and The Beard Club.

They also stepped up to help fundraise for the Humboldt Broncos families in the wake of the tragedy that took 16 lives when the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League team’s bus collided with a truck on April 6.

“It was so tragic, and you can tell how close the entire hockey community is,” says Russell. “It wasn’t just a local thing because we had Ryan (Straschnitzki) injured in it, but everyone in the hockey world is behind Humboldt… We stand behind and want to support them as much as we can.”

Campbell and Russell aren’t done their philanthropic efforts yet, and are working out the details for some charity games for those affected by the tragedy.

Stats

As of publication, Airdrie’s arguably most-famous puck-slinging hicks have an Instagram following of 387,000, plus 59,800 subscribers on YouTube and 150,000 followers on Facebook, where their base began.