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FEATURE: Campbell thriving as "second coach" in Rockford

From teenage teammates to his head coach, Andrew Campbell's influence in Rockford unparalleled

by Austin Siegel / blackhawks.com

If you can name all six players involved in last season's Marian Hossa trade without looking, you're either Blackhawks SVP/General Manager Stan Bowman or you're kidding yourself. 

Of the six, three logged NHL minutes this season (Marcus Kruger, Vinnie Hinostroza, and Jordan Oesterle). Two did not play hockey in 2018-19 (Hossa and Jordan Maletta) and one is currently playing junior hockey in Canada (MacKenzie Entwistle).

The only guy left is Andrew Campbell, which makes sense because there might not be a guy like Andrew Campbell left in all of hockey.

"He makes my job a lot easier," Rockford IceHogs head coach Derek King said. "When you get a young group, you worry about the locker room. You worry about who's telling who what to do…Turn your hats around. Don't wear hats on the plane. Make sure the dress code is right. All the little things. He's just been super with that. He's a great leader."

Campbell certainly looks the part of an old-school enforcer, but when the 6'4" defenseman talks about hockey, it's about building a culture and helping teammates navigate the challenges of an American Hockey League locker room.

"I kind of judge my season on how the team comes together as a group, how the young guys get accustomed to being professionals and having a tight room," Campbell said. "These guys are all at different stages of their lives with different priorities and different family stuff going on, from where I am now with a wife and kids later on in my career. You just try and learn as much about them as possible and get to know them on a personal level."

That holistic approach to hockey is what made Campbell such an interesting part of last summer's trade with the Coyotes. On the ice, Campbell provides the Blackhawks organizational depth on the blue line and a proven contributor in the AHL. Off the ice, he could offer the team even more. 

In his 15-year pro career, Campbell has joined four different NHL organizations and has worn a letter for every single AHL club he's played on. In February, he became just the 74th player in the history of the AHL to skate in 700 games. In addition, Campbell had NHL stints with the Kings, Coyotes and Maple Leafs.

So when Campbell showed up alongside Rockford teammate Collin Delia as an AHL All-Star and captain of the Western Conference at the 2019 All-Star Game in Springfield, Blackhawks fans may have been surprised. Campbell said he certainly didn't expect the All-Star nod. 

"I'm not too flashy and not too offensive, but I had a ton of fun. Came in with the right attitude about it and an open mind. Had a lot of fun, met a lot of people and just soaked in the experience with my family," he said.

But the story of Andrew Campbell, All-Star captain, is about much more than his three goals and five assists this season. 

"Those are the kind of guys you need on an American Hockey League team," King said. "When you're developing young kids, I believe you need guys like that, core veteran guys that can help you out as a coach. They're the second coaches and probably do a lot more coaching than they think."

Nowhere is that more important than on the blue line, where the Blackhawks have stocked up on young defenseman in recent years. Between selecting Adam Boqvist and Nicolas Beaudin in the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft to developing college prospects like Ian Mitchell, most of the team's future defensemen will pass through Rockford. 

"You try to help them along the way, whether they need a stern word or sometimes they just need an arm-around-the-shoulder and a little 'Good job buddy, keep going.' You learn along the way, each guy is a different personality," Campbell said. 

Take Chad Krys, who joined the IceHogs in March after his final season at Boston University came to an end. The 20-year-old defenseman has gone from living on a college campus and playing games on the weekends to an extended-stay hotel in Rockford and road trips that can last for weeks. 

"As a pro, you're on your own so you need to really manage your lifestyle, manage what you do at the rink and how you prepare," Campbell said. "There's no more billets cooking meals or cafeterias. The team here does a phenomenal job providing us with meals on game days, but there's a lot of time when you're on your own away from the rink and really need to manage yourself."

The Blackhawks have invested heavily in Krys, from months of scouting to drafting him in the second round of the 2016 NHL Draft. The team invited Krys to prospect camps during the summer and added him to the IceHogs roster in March. 

Krys said players like Campbell can be an important part of making the adjustment to the AHL.

"When you're 20-years-old and kind of the young guy on the team, it's obviously a little bit weird. But the guys have been really, really good. Guys like Soupy [Campbell] and just really everybody has been awesome," Krys said. "Just helping me out and not picking on me too much."

For his part, Campbell was quick to point out the challenges that young players can face during their transition to the AHL.

"A lot of these guys are paying rent for the first time and paying bills for the first time on their own, grocery shopping and laundry and everything," he said. "Chad's experiencing it now at a different time but you try and help them on as much as you can. They learn pretty quickly."

The defenseman is only three years younger than Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton and says he has thought about stepping behind the bench himself in the future.

Just don't expect Campbell to show up to the rink in a suit and tie anytime soon. 

"I still love playing but it's obviously something I've thought of. You kind of prepare yourself along the way by keeping notes of different drills and tactics of the coaches you've had. I think it's something I would be good at," he said. "But I'd still like to keep playing for awhile. We can cross that bridge when it gets here."

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