Brian Campbell has basically grown up a Buffalo Sabre. Drafted at the tender age of 17 during the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, Campbell passed each of life's under-30 milestones wearing a Sabres sweater.
So it's easy to understand why Monday night's preseason game was a little more special for the 27-year-old defensemen than most. Paired with new addition, Jaroslav Spacek, the kid from nearby Strathroy, Ont. skated around the Air Canada Centre in Toronto with an "A" stitched on his uniform for the first time in his NHL career.
It may have been just a letter on his jersey, but being named an alternate captain symbolized a coming-of-age moment for a player that fans have watched mature throughout the years.
"To me it shows the coaches kind of think of me [as a leader]," said Campbell. "It's always nice to be rewarded in different ways. Even though it was just a preseason game, it's nice to know [what the coaches think], especially when you've grown up in the organization from day one."
Ten years have passed since he first became a member of the Sabres organization and Campbell's hard work in the past is paying dividends in the present.
After splitting his first three seasons between Rochester and Buffalo, Campbell has emerged as a go-to player on the Sabres power-play unit, a skilled two-way defenseman that is responsible in his own zone, and at times, a devastating hitter despite what his less than intimidating 6-foot, 190 lbs. frame would suggest.
"As soon as I started getting playing time [during 2005-06], my confidence started to grow," said Campbell, who appeared in just 49 games through his first three years in the league. "When Toni [Lydman] went down with an injury [early in the regular season], I really started to gain confidence by playing on the power play."
Confidence makes a good player great, and Campbell's performance during the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs was just that.
His thunderous hit on RJ Umberger in Game 1 against Philadelphia in the first round became a signature moment for Buffalo's post-season run and set the tone for the series.
When the Sabres defensive corps was riddled with injuries in Games 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff turned to Campbell to shoulder the burden. The defenseman answered by leading all skaters in those two contests with over 30 minutes of ice time.
"I've worked hard and have gotten some opportunities from the team," said Campbell. "Would I have like to have had those chances earlier? Of course you would, but sometimes things don't work out that way. I was able to take advantage of the situation when I finally got the opportunity."
With his increased status on the team, Campbell is exploring new territory in his career.
Entering this season, he is no longer viewed as a fringe defenseman on the Sabres blueline and has been slated by Ruff to join Spacek on Buffalo's second defensive pairing.
Leadership is now expected from the young kid who is just a few years removed from being the follower.
"I've learned from the past and have really grown up," said Campbell. "It's nice, because I've really come to feel like this is my family now."
It's really not hard to explain why a letter could mean so much to someone who has been a part of something for so long.