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Campbell bringing stronger mental game into play

Wednesday, 08.10.2011 / 11:26 AM / 2012 World Junior Championship

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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Campbell bringing stronger mental game into play
A string of gold medals had Jack Campbell used to nothing but success, but after not making the Dallas Stars as an 18-year-old last season, the goaltender had to regain his confidence and readjust his thinking.
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- When you're Jack Campbell and you're so used to winning it seems like the only color you ever see is gold, failure in any form is an alien feeling.

So when Campbell, the goaltender taken by the Stars with the 11th pick of the 2010 Entry Draft, arrived in Dallas for training camp last September, he was focused on making the NHL as an 18-year-old.

And why wouldn't he make it? To that point, he had been successful at just about everything else he had tried.

In a span of 12 months, from April 2009 to April 2010, Campbell won gold medals for the U.S. at back-to-back World Under-18 Championships, with a thrilling golden victory at the 2010 World Junior Championship sandwiched between them.

He was the top-rated goaltender heading into the draft, and not long after being selected by the Stars he passed on a scholarship to the University of Michigan to sign with the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League, the two-time defending Memorial Cup champion.

So when Campbell arrived for Stars training camp, he was set on playing in the NHL. It didn't matter to him that since 2000, only three 18-year-old goalies had played in the NHL -- the Islanders' Rick DiPietro (2000), the Rangers' Dan Blackburn (2001) and the Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury (2003).

While it was no surprise for many that he was sent to Windsor to continue his development, it did surprise -- and disappoint -- Campbell.

"I really wanted to make the Dallas Stars as an 18-year-old goaltender. In reality, I realize now that's not possible for me to do. Goalies take more time. I'll need more time. Last year I was in a little bit of a rush to get there and that's why I played a little bit up and down to start the year." -- Jack Campbell

"I really wanted to make the Dallas Stars as an 18-year-old goaltender," he told NHL.com. "In reality, I realize now that's not possible for me to do. Goalies take more time. I'll need more time. Last year I was in a little bit of a rush to get there and that's why I played a little bit up and down to start the year."

In his first eight games, Campbell went just 2-5-0 with a 4.86 goals-against average and .853 save percentage, and when he left Windsor in December for the 2011 World Junior Championship, he was just 12-9-0 with a 3.68 GAA and .887 save percentage.

Campbell admits now he allowed the training camp disappointment to linger far longer than it should have, and combined with learning a new league and new teammates, his golden days had become severely tarnished.

"I wouldn't say the level of play was any higher than I've faced in the past," he said of his entrance into the OHL. "The World Junior tournament is by far the best hockey that I've played. The men's national team, I got to play with those guys, and now also the NHL camps and things like that, I think that's a high level of play. I just think the OHL is a different game, which is a lot different than the game I've played. The learning curve for that was a lot different. ... There's a lot more Grade-A scoring chances. It's not quite as high-paced as the USHL, the college game or the World Junior tournament, but there's a lot of high-skill players that make a lot of good moves that get all alone on you. Just things like that. It took me a little bit to adjust."

Campbell was at a low-water mark when he showed up for the final U.S. World Junior training camp last December.

"I wouldn't say I was rattled by the start of the year," he said, "but I had a lot to prove in that tournament."

Something happened when he pulled on the Team USA jersey. In that moment the old Campbell, the one who seemingly could make saves in a soccer goal, reappeared.

"When he had a USA Hockey jersey on at Christmas, we wouldn't have wanted another goalie in the world," USA Hockey goalie coach Joe Exter told NHL.com. "We were happy to have him. What he went through in Windsor made him a better goaltender for us."

In six games in Buffalo, Campbell topped all goalies with a 1.70 GAA and .941 save percentage. He was named the tournament's best goaltender en route to backstopping the U.S. to the bronze medal. After the gold in 2010 in Saskatoon, it marked the first time the U.S. had medaled at two straight WJCs.

"I kind of needed that personally," Campbell said. "I put so much pressure on myself to start the year in trying to make Dallas. I got sent back to Windsor, didn't have a good start because of that. (The WJC) kind of showed that I still have that type of talent to be named the best goalie for that (tournament). It was a tremendous honor and I just kind of used that to help me help the team have a great playoff run."

Campbell was a different goalie when he got back to Windsor. He went 12-5-4 in his final 23 games, with a 3.93 GAA and .881 save percentage. He helped the Spitfires finish fourth in the OHL Western Conference, and beat Erie and Saginaw to advance to the conference finals, where they lost in five games to the eventual league champion Owen Sound Attack. He played every minute in the postseason for the Spitfires, and finished the playoffs second in the league with nine wins and two shutouts. He had a 40-save, double-overtime win against Erie in the first round, and a 3.74 GAA and .887 save percentage in 18 games.

"I just went out there and played and just competed," Campbell said. "I didn't expect too much. Just tried to stop everything I could. That's when my talent comes out and I just play hockey because I love it and not worry about anything else."

Campbell said just going out and playing was the biggest thing he learned from his rough season.

"I learned that the most important thing about hockey is having fun," he said. "When I go out there relaxed and compete, that's when I'm at my best. Not when I'm worried about trying to make the NHL this year and things like that. I've just got to go out there with a clear mind and have some fun, and that's when I'm stopping the most pucks."

Exter, who has coached Campbell with USA Hockey for the last four seasons, sees a more mature goaltender who has learned from his difficult season.

"You don't have to tell Jack what he has to learn," Exter said. "He's a bright kid, he's got a strong character. He's able to look at the situation. While going through it you get emotional, but he's able to step back after it's over and realize what he's got to do and he's going to benefit from it in the long run."

When Campbell leaves Lake Placid, he'll continue getting ready for Stars training camp. He said it will be a far different mindset for him this year when he gets to Dallas.

"I just want to go into camp in Dallas and play the best hockey I know I can play," he said. "Whatever decision (GM) Joe (Nieuwendyk) and Tim Bernhardt (director of amateur scouting) and Les Jackson (director of scouting and player development) make for me next year, I know they're making the best decision for my career and I'm going to do the best I can wherever I go. I'm excited to play hockey. ... If I'm in Dallas, Austin (AHL Texas Stars) or Windsor, I'm excited to play hockey."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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