Earlier in the day, he had been back skating at Ristuccia Arena for Captain's Practice. The last time the centerman had hit the ice in Black & Gold with his teammates, he suffered his broken leg during the Eastern Conference Finals in May.
Three months after successful surgery on June 10, and Campbell was back smiling, taking strides as if he had never left the ice - and running around the baseball diamond with ease.
Actually, he's been cleared to run and skate for two and a half weeks now (since August 20), and came right to Boston once he got the good news.
In fact, the next day, he went right on the ice, having been extremely anxious for nearly three months waiting for that news. His leg didn't feel the best then, but Campbell said "it's gotten better ever since."
"I feel pretty good - it's a difficult rehab process in the sense that I've had to be patient - and that's not one of my strong suits," smirked Campbell, as he spoke with a crowd of reporters near the dugout at the softball game, while fans shouted down from the stands. "So the patience pays off in the end and just making sure that it heals properly."
"I kind of pushed the envelope, actually, the entire summer just trying to do as much as I can," he added. "As far as being on track, it’s been a pretty smooth rehab. I’ve been back to Boston a couple times, got X-rayed and each step of the way things have gone well as far as what the surgeon thinks about the healing process."
"As soon as I got the word that I could start running and skating, I took that to heart and got right on the ice and so every day, I’ve progressively gotten a little better I think, a little more comfortable in the skate."
The biggest adjustment so far for Campbell has been putting his right foot back in his skate, since it's the most tender and sensitive area from the injury. He had to work with the B's training staff to support the area and try different materials like foam to take the pressure off the area. It's still a work in progress, but the temporary solution feels pretty good for the Bruin. And it shows, as his skating doesn't seem too affected.
So, with Campbell's overall progress going smoothly, will he be ready to join the B's when Training Camp opens on September 11?
"I think so," he said, before adding later, "I think I can definitely participate in practices and things like that - I think I'll just have to see how it goes and how I progress and not push it."
Every Bruin keeps himself in outstanding shape, but Campbell's dedication to his routine is one of the most meticulous I have ever seen. He's almost always the first to the rink before a game, and the amount of work he puts into what you see translate as "toughness" on the ice is incredible.
So, though he is glad to be skating and getting back to his usual workouts (adding in more running, as opposed to the biking he had to do this summer), he feels he will be playing catch-up for a while to get where he wants to be.
"You know, at this point in time, guys are really peaking…you're in pretty good shape this time of year and you've been skating for a month already," said Campbell. "I take a lot of pride in training and being ready physically and my fitness, I always like to be on top of that, so I guess in my mind, I feel like I'm still a little step or two behind, especially these other guys that have been going hard for some time now."
The center definitely has his eye on being ready to play in preseason games with the doctors and trainers approval, but admitted that "definitely the smarter approach is to be ready for the regular season."
The preseason games would help in that progress, but Campbell wants to get a better feel the more he skates with the B's.
"I haven't been skating at this high level yet, so I guess I'll see how comfortable I am with that and as time goes on, I'll make that decision."
Humbling Experience for Campbell
When I was sitting up in the stands at Ristuccia Arena on Thursday morning before Captain's Practice, I looked down to see two Bruins about to use the saw that sits on the workbench right outside the players' locker room door. A closer look showed them to be Chris Kelly and Gregory Campbell.
My reaction was to immediately go get a photo for Twitter ("fans will love this," I thought). So I descended the stands and captured the moment - 'Soupy' was back at the rink (!!!) and preparing his stick for hitting the ice. When Chris saw me with phone in hand, ready to snap a photo, he quickly maneuvered his way out of the shot. "They don't want a photo of me," he joked.
Why was that my first reaction, and why did Kelly react the way he did? No. 23 may be camera-shy, but that clearly wasn't the reason. Ever since the viral sensation of Campbell blocking Evgeni Malkin's shot and continuing the penalty kill shift essentially on one leg, without knowing he had broken the other, the center has been the center of attention for what defines "a hockey player."
Campbell definitely appreciates it, and reactions like mine won't be going away anytime soon, but for him, he's just staying focused on his recovery and getting himself ready for 2013-14.
"It's been a little humbling," he said to a group of reporters he spoke with during Lucic's charity softball game on Thursday. "It's definitely not the way I want to get noticed [by breaking my leg], but for me, I’m just taking it and I’m appreciative of all the support I’ve gotten from many different people inside the game and outside the game."
As an athlete, he's at a crossroads when he thinks about how much of a defining moment that shift became. For Campbell, the fact that he couldn't be on the ice helping his team in the Stanley Cup Final was what consumed him the most.
"For me, it's just, I don’t really put a lot of stock into the attention that that play brought, more that I was kind of wrapped up in the fact that I wasn’t playing, I wasn’t part of it, and for an athlete, that’s the hardest part is to have that pulled away from you."
"That’s a tough pill to swallow, but as far as attention goes; I’d rather get attention by helping the team win and, you know, raising the Cup, rather than getting hurt and breaking my leg, so I’m appreciative of the fact that people realize that I was really just trying to help the team, but in another sense for me, it was more of a discouraging moment that I had to overcome."
The inner-workings of an athlete's mind.
And now that Campbell has nearly overcome one of the major setbacks he's ever experienced in his pro career, he'll certainly appreciate the standing O the Boston faithful gives him on opening night, and he won't mind the photos and attention -- but the athlete in him will also continue working hard towards giving us something else to cheer about.