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Olympic captain Campbell reflects on stellar career

by Deborah Francisco
Cassie Campbell is the longest serving captain in Canadian hockey history (2001-2006). She won 21 medals with Team Canada (17 gold, 4 silver) including two Olympic gold medals (2002, Salt Lake City and 2006, Turin, Italy) and one silver medal (1998, Nagano, Japan). She is the only captain to lead Canada to two Olympic gold medals. She notched 32 goals and 68 assists over a 157-game span with Team Canada. Her 100 points rank her eighth all-time with Team Canada's National Women's program. How did you get your start?

Campbell: I started skating on the outdoor ponds and stuff when I was three, but I didn't play on an official team until I was seven. Actually, I started hockey in the U.S. in New Jersey. I played for the Ramapo Saints. My dad just got transferred there through work and I spent two and a half years there as kid. Who is the best youth coach you ever had, and why?

Campbell: My mom coached me. She would definitely be up there, that's for sure.

Cassie Campbell is the only captain to lead Canada to two Olympic gold medals. (Photo: Getty Images) Who was your role model?

Campbell: We didn't have any females that we knew about to look up to as far as hockey players. My favorite player growing up was Paul Coffey ... and my older brother Jeff played, so I tried to emulate him as well. Those are the two people that I tried to be. What advice would you give your 10-year-old self?

Campbell: The first thing is, have fun. That has to be priority No. 1. It's exciting to have goals to be in the NHL or to be on the National Women's team, but you have to be there because you love it and you have fun. How can coaches foster growth in the girl's game?

Campbell: Encouragement. I think there is time for teaching and there is time for discipline, that's part of playing a competitive sport, but encouragement is really key. I think encouragement goes a long way. You never know these kids, they may be frustrated with something they are not able to do and they may want to quit and then a coach's positive words may keep them in the game, so I think a No. 1 rule for a coach is to just be an encouragement and be positive. How have you seen the women's game grow over the years?

Campbell: The numbers at the grassroots level, it's skyrocketed. There's so many teams. I grew up in the Toronto area and we had three teams, now there's hundreds of teams around that area. I think they are getting access to a lot more ice time and better coaching and different things, and these kids who I see coming up now to the National Program, they're 25 times better than I was at that age, so I think they're just all-around better athletes and better hockey players and they've been getting better coaching right from the get-go. What is the greatest challenge you overcame in your career?


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Campbell: We kind of always found that we were trying to take the women's game to the next level so we would be taken seriously, so I think that was the No. 1 challenge for us. What was your greatest accomplishment?

Campbell: I kind of have two, I guess. For me it was playing the 1995 University Championships out of Ontario, and I was playing for the University of Guelph and we were playing against the University of Toronto and they had like seven or eight National Team players on their team and we just had me, and we beat them, 3-2. That was a pretty special moment for me, playing university hockey and you're playing every single day and you become kind of a family.

And of course, the Olympics in 2002, we shouldn't have won. We beat the USA Dream Team and there was so much adversity that year and there was so much behind the scenes, and I think to come out with a gold medal that year was pretty incredible if you consider everything that we went through. You switched from defense to forward after the 1998 Olympics, why?

Campbell: At the '98 Olympics I had kind of a so-so year I guess, and I remember the year after the Olympics we were playing in a national championship for our club team and our coach decided to put a couple of us who were normally on defense on forward just so we wouldn't mess up the whole chemistry of our team. We weren't playing together with them all year because we were centralized just for the Olympics. And myself and Geraldine Heaney, we led the team in scoring playing forward and Tom Renney at the time was working for Hockey Canada and he didn't know a lot about women's hockey but he was in charge of ranking all the players at that championship, so he thought I was a forward and I guess he ranked me as one of the top forwards and the coaches came to me the next year and asked me if I would play forward, and being the kind of person that I am I was like, ‘Whatever you guys think is best for the team,' so that's how the switch happened. When should girls think about specializing in a position?

Campbell: I think as you get 17 or 18 you should know what position you want to play, but for me, and many of the girls my age, we played every position just because we never had enough players, and I think that helped me in the long run have such a long career with the National team because I was able to play both positions and I was versatile and the coach could use me in different ways. I think at this level now you have to have something set at 17 or 18 but, to me, the best players are the ones who can adapt to what the team needs.

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