SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. -- Gregory Campbell has a simple explanation as to why hockey players are regarded as some of the most fan-friendly professional athletes.
"A lot of players grow up in small towns and we kind of get an appreciation of what it takes to play in the NHL," said the Florida Panthers center. "I think it's been passed on from players who played in the past, the greats. The players recognize that and see how they acted.
"The other thing is, to play this game, it's one thing to have talent but it's another thing to have that character, be a good player and be a good team guy.
"Hockey is ultimately a team sport and you'll find most guys are pretty good guys and have a lot of character. That kind of trickles down to the younger kids and it's nice to have that reputation as a hockey player."
The Panthers graciously greeted and signed autographs for a throng of star-struck young fans as they left the ice following the team's pre-game skate at Summerside's Credit Union Place on Saturday morning in preparation for that night's exhibition game against the New York Islanders.
"It's not too much to ask us to take the time to sign a couple of autographs or do whatever we can to show these kids we appreciate their support," said Campbell. "We were once in their shoes. I come from a small town as well and I can relate to how these kids and the people are feeling to have two NHL teams playing."
An estimated 300 fans, mostly young children, attended the pre-game skate.
"It's for the kids and it's good they're showing their support," said Panthers right-winger Anthony Stewart. "It gives us a little boost in practice trying to do a couple of more moves to put on a bit of a show."
Stewart, who grew up in Toronto, understands how the young fans feel.
"I went to Leafs' practices and I know how it was asking for autographs," said Stewart. "You try and sign all the autographs for all the kids and hopefully they'll do the same when they're my age."