World junior star Campbell no stranger to pressure
Those who’ve watched Jack Campbell play say the goaltender is best when the pressure is on.
The pressure couldn’t have been greater on New Year’s Day, when Campbell received a tap on the shoulder from U.S. team coach Dean Blais early in the second period of the gold-medal game at the IIHF world junior hockey championship.
Campbell, at 17 the second youngest player on the U.S. squad, suddenly found himself in net with his team trailing 3-0 to Canada, a team looking for an unprecedented sixth straight title playing in front of a partisan crowd in Regina.
“When he (Blais) sent me in, it meant all the hard work and sacrifices I’ve made had paid off,” Campbell said. “I just went out and had fun. I wasn’t even nervous, to be honest. I was just really enjoying the moment.”
And what a moment.
Campbell stopped 32 of the 34 shots he faced — including game-changing saves on Canadian stars Nazim Kadri (the No. 11 pick in last year’s NHL entry draft) and Taylor Hall (expected to be the top pick in this year’s draft) — as the U.S. rallied to beat Canada 6-5 in overtime for the country’s second world junior title.
That ability to stand tall in big games is part of the reason why Campbell, a native of Port Huron, Mich., is ranked the No. 2 goaltending prospect heading into this year’s entry draft, which takes place June 25-26 in Los Angeles.
“He can come up with the big saves to turn a game around, to pump up the guys on the bench,” Al Jensen, head goaltending scout with NHL Central Scouting, said of Campbell. “That’s a great advantage to have.
“What he’s got is quickness,” Jensen added. “This kid is the quickest goalie in the draft — by far. He’s determined, driven, has the willingness to battle and the willingness to win.”
Jensen said that if there’s a knock on Campbell, it’s that he can be too aggressive at times and occasionally puts himself out of position.
It’s something Campbell has heard and acknowledges.
“Sometimes I want the puck too much,” he said. “In the big, pressure moments, I want the shot, I want to make the big save. I’ve got to let the play come to me, then make sure to make the save and control the rebound.”
Campbell has honed his skills with USA Hockey’s national team development program, where he backstopped the U.S. under-18 teams to world championships in 2009 and 2010, and is keen to follow in the footsteps of some of the program’s goaltending graduates: Al Montoya (the sixth overall pick in the 2004 draft), Rick DiPietro (taken No. 1 in 2000), Jimmy Howard (an NHL rookie-of-the-year candidate this season with the Detroit Red Wings) and Ryan Miller (the Buffalo Sabres star nominated or the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie).
Since Campbell and Miller have similar builds — Campbell is six-foot-three and 175 pounds; Miller is six-foot-two and 182 pounds — and hail from Michigan, some have compared Campbell to Miller.
“I’ve been looking up to him for years now,” Campbell said of Miller, who grew up in East Lansing, two hours west of Port Huron. “To be compared to him by scouts is a tremendous honour, but at the same time he’s accomplished so much in his career and I still have so much to accomplish in mine, I have to keep working hard.”
Campbell will do that next season with the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League, after making the difficult decision to turn down a chance to play for University of Michigan, one of the higher profile teams in the U.S. college ranks.
“Michigan is a tremendous school and a great opportunity,” Campbell said, “but at the end of the day, I want to play in the NHL as soon as I can. I thought playing in the OHL, playing more games next year, I can go down that path sooner than later.”
Although he grew up rooting for the Red Wings, he’ll be happy playing for whatever team selects him.
“I’ll tell whatever team that drafts me that I hope we beat the Wings every time I play them,” Campbell said.
Given Campbell’s talent that might indeed happen sooner than later.
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