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A more relaxed, patient Jack Campbell poised to grab starting role in AHL

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

When the Dallas Stars drafted Jack Campbell back in 2010, the young goaltender was in a hurry to work his way up to the NHL. Over the past five years, Campbell has learned to be more patient with his development. This past season he learned that taking a step back – even for a short time – can be a good thing. And it can be fun.

It was early February and Campbell was having a rough season with Texas of the AHL. He had been slowed by injury and illness. His record was 3-10-4 with a 3.36 goals-against average and .890 save percentage. He had lost his past five decisions – all in regulation – and he hadn’t played in a game in about three weeks. So, Dallas decided to assign him to Idaho of the ECHL. The transaction got a little more attention than most since it was Campbell, a first-round pick (11th overall). But the Stars said the move was a positive one for their goaltending prospect.

“Young guys have to play,” Stars GM Jim Nill said at the time. “Jack has been battling a lot of injuries and illnesses over the last two seasons, he is finally feeling healthy again and we just need to get him some games.”

The moved paid dividends. Campbell played seven games in 13 days with Idaho, posting a 5-2-0 record, 1.73 goals-against average and .945 save percentage.

“Just playing, getting away from everybody a little bit,” said Scott White, Dallas Stars Director of Hockey Operations and Texas Stars GM. “He just played. He played a lot of hockey in a short period of time. I think he had fun.”

“I think it was just knowing I was the guy down there,” Campbell said. “I played seven in a row, which was nice. The boys had a lot of confidence in me and the coaches. I relaxed down there and came back with the same attitude and everything kind of took care of itself.”

The dividends continued to roll in when Campbell returned to the AHL. He went 0-1-1 in his first two starts, but then went 11-3-0 with a 2.45 goals-against average and .924 save percentage to finish the season.

“[Idaho] just made me relax, take a step back and have some fun,” Campbell said. “I am real serious. That’s my biggest issue. I love hockey so much; I want to be the best, and sometimes you’ve got to have a little bit of fun too. That’s what I did down there. I just went to the rink with a smile, and it carried over when I came back to [the AHL].”

The 23-year-old Campbell has learned a lot over the past few years. He’s learned to be patient in the way he plays on the ice. He’s learned to be patient with his development. And he’s starting to learn to relax away from the rink.

“I bring my hockey home with me and I am always thinking about it. I have a lot of pride in my game,” Campbell said. “Sometimes I used to lose sleep at night and work out all the time. I learned that’s not the best thing for a professional athlete. You just need to leave it at the rink. If it’s a good day, you carry it over to the next day, and if it’s a bad day, you learn from it and move on.

“I think that’s what I’ve developed this year, that patience. Not getting too high or too low. It’s just one day at a time. Just trying to enjoy everything a little bit more.”

He’s found some outlets away from the rink that allow him to get his mind off hockey and have some fun.

“I’ve been cooking a lot, and I am playing golf again,” he said. “It’s been nice. Just more relaxing activities.”

His specialty in the kitchen?

“I am just a beginner,” he said, “but I like making the boys lamb chops and sweet potatoes. That’s my go-to dish.”

Campbell said relaxing and getting his mind off hockey has helped. So did those two weeks in Idaho. That all helped him turn around his season, and he seems to be in a good spot heading into 2015-16.

“The beginning was a learning experience for me, but I am proud of the way I finished the year from the time I got sent to Boise,” Campbell said. “I was just getting better in all areas of life and I definitely took my game to another level and back to where I know I can be.”

Campbell has shown that he can play and play well at the AHL level. He had a solid rookie campaign in 2012-13, posting a 2.65 goals-against average and .905 save percentage in 40 games. He missed most of 2013-14 due to injury issues but was superb when healthy, going 12-2-2 with a 1.49 goals-against average and .949 save percentage. He won two of his first three starts in the playoffs in 2014 but was injured in his fourth game and did not play the rest of the way as Texas won the Calder Cup. This past season was a bumpy ride, but the Stars liked the way he finished.

“Jack had an up and down year, to say the least,” White said. “I am happy for him that he is where he is now.”

“It’s been an up and down road for him, a lot of stuff he can’t control like illnesses and injuries,” said Nill. “It’s a little bit of maturing, a little bit of playing and getting in there and doing it. He’s putting it together.”

This season will be a key one for Campbell, who signed a one-year contract extension last month. The Stars are looking for Campbell to grab the No. 1 spot with the Texas Stars. It’s an important step for Campbell, who knows that part of the process of getting to the NHL is proving he can be the man in the AHL.

“I know if I take care of my job here everything else will take care of itself,” Campbell said. “My goal is to be a starting goalie in the National Hockey League for the Dallas Stars. That’s my main goal, but that’s a process. I have to show that I can be a starting goalie for the Texas Stars.”

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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