-- It really didn't matter to U.S. National Junior Team goalie Jack Campbell
that those thousands of Canadian fans in attendance to see their local heroes battle the Americans continually chanted his last name with sarcastic undertones in the final preliminary-round match of the World Junior Championship at Rexall Place.
It began when the starting lineups were first announced and continued right through the final seconds -- "Cammmpbell, Cammmpbell, Cammmpbell."
He expected as much and, really, wouldn't have had it any other way.
It could actually be considered a term of endearment when you get right down to it. It was Campbell who broke those Canadian hearts two years ago in Saskatoon in the gold medal match -- a game these fans won't forget no matter how many medals are garnered this point forward.
"Actually, with about a minute-and-a-half left, I was on the bench and just sitting there listening to it and, as weird as this may sound, I'm so thankful that the fans were this involved in the hockey," a gracious Campbell told the media following his team's 3-2 loss to Team Canada on Saturday.
"Obviously, they weren't chanting my name to root for me, but it's a special thing," Campbell said. "I can tell my grandkids about this … that 20,000 Canadians were screaming my name. Their passion for the game is the best in the world, so it's been a lot of fun to be a part of this the last three years, but obviously the finish is disappointing."
Instead of competing for a gold medal this year, Campbell and his U.S. teammates will join Denmark, Switzerland and Latvia in the relegation round that begins Tuesday here at Scotiabank Saddledome.
There's no question Campbell is one of the most decorated goaltenders in USA Hockey history. He is only the second American goalie to play in three World Junior tournaments, joining Alan Perry
Unlike Perry, however, Campbell entered this year's tournament having led Americans to a gold medal (2010), as well as a bronze (2011) in the previous two WJC events. He sported a 5-2-1-1 (W-OTW-OTL-L) record in nine appearances with a 1.88 goals-against average, .932 save percentage and one shutout prior to this year's tournament. He was named the tournament's top goalie last year when he finished 4-1-0-1 with a 1.70 GAA and .941 save percentage.
This year, however, the U.S. struggled for offense in three successive losses to Finland, the Czech Republic and Canada, and were outscored by a 12-5 aggregate. Campbell is currently 1-2 with a 3.38 goals-against average and .886 save percentage. Team USA opened the tournament with an 11-3 triumph over winless Denmark.
"These tourneys are so quick, you only have a couple of days to gel and get that chemistry and people can talk about that chemistry clicking, but all it takes is one bad game," Campbell said. "Basically, I think we had the offense as far as skill, but we just didn't finish like we did in the past. And I also take full responsibility at my position. I expect to be the best each time I step on the ice, and for the first two games [against Denmark and Czech Republic], I simply wasn't."
He was pretty good on Saturday, however, turning aside 32 shots to keep his team within striking distance in an eventual 3-2 loss to the unbeaten Canadians.
"Jack felt bad [Friday] night [after losing to the Czech Republic]," U.S. coach Dean Blais said. "He felt we lost that game because of him and the Czech goalie outplayed him. More importantly, it knocked us out of the medal round and he was dreaming about another gold medal.
"He was very emotional after that Czech game and I had no choice but to play him [against Team Canada]. It was the right thing, the humanitarian thing to do. I had a gut feeling like most coaches do sometimes."
Canada defenseman Jamie Oleksiak
, who holds dual U.S.-Canadian citizenship, never doubted that his former teammate would rise to the occasion on a big stage.
"Campbell is a proven goalie and he did a great job [Saturday]," Oleksiak said. "There were a couple close ones he was able to stop. We had to outwork their goalie … that's what it came down to. Whenever you're facing a hot goalie, you have to do that."
Few will forget the 2010 gold medal game between the U.S. and Canada when Blais replaced starter Mike Lee with Campbell midway through the second period of a 3-3 game. The 17-year-old Campbell, chosen by the Dallas Stars
with the 11th pick in the 2010 Draft, didn't disappoint, stopping 32 shots the rest of the way en route to a 6-5 overtime victory.
"When you're 17, it's difficult to play in front of a big crowd in Canada, but I was probably spoiled," Campbell said. "I expected to win gold every year and came up here each year with that mindset. The reality is these fans are unbelievable and it really does have an effect on the hockey game. It's very hard to play in front of those people when you're young but, I must say, it's been an honor."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale