Almost two months since Gregory Campbell last wore his skates, his curiosity was irritating him more than if a prankster had sprinkled itching powder in his hockey pants.
What would it feel like to slip his skate on over his surgically repaired, still-recovering, right foot?
"I actually felt the screws because of where the incision was and where the plate is," the Boston Bruins center told NHL.com this week during a phone conversation from his home in Kitchener, Ontario. "So it's underneath my skate there on the side. So when I tightened it up and I moved my ankle back and forth, I actually felt the screws, which surprised me because I didn't think I would. But I was talking to people; I have to tweak the boot a little bit so there's not much pressure on the area."
That day a couple of weeks ago, Campbell was scheduled for an important X-ray to see if he could resume skating and running for the first time since his right fibula was broken by an Evgeni Malkin slap shot in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Boston Bruins center Gregory Campbell will be remembered for his memorable penalty kill in the Eastern Conference Final. He's waiting for his broken leg to heal and is hopeful he can start skating soon. (Photo: Getty Images)
The result was a mixed response. The X-ray showed things looking good, but the bone wasn't healed enough for Campbell to start skating. The 29-year-old is scheduled for another X-ray in Boston on Aug. 20, when there's a chance he will get his clearance. He's hoping to be ready to go full-bore at training camp in September but won't be able to gauge his readiness until he's had the chance to skate.
Campbell was injured June 5, and after surgery June 10, the prognosis was 6-8 weeks of recovery, so he's a bit behind.
Getting comfortable playing with a plate and screws in his foot, and either modifying his current skate or working with the training staff and skate company to build a new boot, will be part of a list of challenges for Campbell in his effort to be ready for the regular season, which opens for the Bruins on Oct. 3 against the Tampa Bay Lightning at TD Garden.
You know Campbell can battle through anything to accomplish his goals. For close to a minute after he slid to block Malkin's shot during a penalty kill in Game 3 of the conference final and returned to his feet in obvious pain, Campbell managed to stay upright on the broken leg and help the Bruins extinguish the Penguins' man-advantage before he skated off. The Bruins went on to win that game then completed a sweep to earn a second trip to the Stanley Cup Final in three years.
Campbell had surgery five days later and was unable to aid the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games. Although he didn't win another championship, Campbell became a synonym for toughness and determination. The enormity of his act reverberated across sports and affected people in all walks of life.
Despite the acclaim Campbell has received in the months since the play, he said life hasn't changed all that much. There isn't a line down his block of companies looking to sign him to endorsement deals as the model of hockey toughness, but the humble fourth-liner and penalty-killer is OK with that. Although he typically shuns the spotlight, he doesn't mind the admiration, at least in terms of how he was able to back up the talk about doing anything to win.
"I know that it was a big story, especially back here in Canada, and I'm definitely appreciative of the support, and I guess the praise that I got," he said. "I wasn't looking for that, obviously, but I guess I'm appreciative that people appreciated the play. I guess I'm a player that doesn't get a lot of notoriety and I've never been looking for that. But I've been looking for respect from teammates always, and other peers in the League that know that it takes really all kinds to win, all the types of players, and it really takes everybody doing everything they can to win in our League. So I guess just the realization that I want to do whatever I can for my team at any point is good. Because like I said, I'm a player, just a simple player that doesn't really make any highlight reels ever. So I guess it was nice in that sense."
Campbell always sets a high standard for himself, but now he might have a difficult time living up to some of his expectations.
"I guess the only time -- knock on wood, whatever -- I won't be able to not skate off is if I'm unconscious," he said with a chuckle.
The injury and surgery put a bit of a damper on Campbell's summer. When he and his wife Katie attended the wedding of former Florida Panthers teammate Stephen Weiss in Florida, Campbell wasn't able to dance. He got back to playing golf (he said his handicap is anywhere from 8 to 12 depending on how frequently he's played) only in the past couple of weeks. But he's found ways to keep working out, first using an Airdyne stationary bike when he was in a walking boot, and lately with an elliptical machine since he was able to shed the boot. The cardio work, combined with some weight training that doesn't require him to risk reinjuring his foot, has replaced the 4-5 days of skating he'd usually be putting in at this point in a normal summer.
If the Bruins are going to be a team driven this season by the disappointment of their Final loss to the Blackhawks, Campbell might be the most motivated of all considering his missed an opportunity to contribute.
"It was very, very hard to watch," Campbell said. "And I was trying to support the team with whatever I could do. I mean, that wasn't much. And not being able to win was even more difficult because how hard everybody worked to get to that point. And not knowing when the next opportunity is going to come around, you really have to take advantage of those opportunities, I feel like. And to have it cut short, where I felt like I was playing some pretty good hockey in the conference finals there, was pretty discouraging.
"But I also looked at it from a realistic standpoint that that's the way I play and that's the chance I take and that's something that I can't change. So I did what I could do and sometimes those things happen and it could've been worse. So I have to take positives out of it."
Campbell has 58 points in his three seasons in Boston, but his point total is only one indicator that he is one of the best fourth-line centers in the League. Though some of the other factors can't be quantified, we now know there are opportunities now and then for toughness to be measured in the amount of seconds someone can play with a broken leg.
"There's countless reasons that I look forward to coming back to Boston, but mainly because I know we’re going to have a good team and I know that we're going to be able to compete," he said. "So for me personally, as long as I'm helping the team obtain that goal of winning, that's satisfaction enough for me."