Campbell, the Stars No. 1 pick (11th overall) this past summer, finished with 25 saves, and the United States hung on to defeat Switzerland 2-1 to go undefeated in its four preliminary round games of the IIHF World junior Tournament on Friday at HSBC Arena.
The Americans finished in first place in Group A, and leaped directly into the semi-finals on Monday where they will face the winner of the Switzerland/Canada quarterfinal game scheduled for Sunday.
"For our team, this is huge," Campbell said. "We've gotten better every single game."
Just seven minutes into this one the U.S. trailed for the first time in the tournament when Switzerland's Inti Pestoni wristed a shot past Campbell from the right circle. But the deficit lasted just over three minutes, as Chris Kreider tied it with a power-play goal at 10:15 of the first, converting a nifty behind-the-back pass from Charlie Coyle from behind the goal line.
And after Mitch Callahan took the puck around the Switzerland net and stuffed it past goalie Benjamin Conz with 6:07 left in the second, Campbell shut the door the rest of the way.
"It showed a lot about the character we have," Campbell said. "Now going into the elimination games we're that much more confident."
In the third the Stars' prized-prospect made a terrific left pad save on Reto Schappi's shot from the left circle, then made the save of the game with just under four minutes left in regulation when he denied Sven Bartschi's golden chance from the slot to preserve the win.
"Outstanding," Flower Mound native Chris Brown said. "That's a Top 10 save right there. Jack's really held us in these four games, and he's been standing on his head when he needs to. He's making the big saves and keeping us in games."
The Americans finished the first part of the tournament with the stingiest defense, tying Finland by allowing a mere four goals in the first four games. Though their 15 goals is only the fifth-most of the six teams now in contention for the gold medal, with Campbell in the crease the United States don't need to put five on the scoreboard to be in the game.
"You have to give all the credit to my teammates," Campbell said. "They're making my job real easy, clearing out all of the rebounds, letting me see pucks, and our coaching staff has done a really great job preparing us."
Campbell's been everything that he was billed out to be heading into the tournament, and then some. He finished the preliminary round as the top goaltender, posting a .957 save percentage and miniscule 1.03 goals-against average. He was in line for a shutout Thursday against Germany, but was lifted in favor of backup Andy Iles with 9:33 to go.
The pair combined for a 4-0 blanking of the Germans.
Coming in, U.S. coach Keith Allain never declared Campbell as his starting netminder, but now there's no doubt who will be in the crease for the United States the rest of the way.
"Our defensive team game has been good, but when you play in a tournament of this nature sometimes it doesn't matter how good you are because teams are going to get some quality scoring chances," Allain said. "The Swiss had more tonight than we would have liked them to get, but we only allowed one goal due to the work of Jack. He's a calming influence for our hockey team, and he's a guy we all rally around."
The U.S. persevered without two of their top forwards Friday. Jeremy Morin missed his second game because of an undisclosed injury, while Jason Zucker missed his second straight game after taking a vicious elbow to the head from Slovakia's Martin Marincin in Tuesday's win over the Slovaks. Marincin wound up getting suspended for four games for the blow.
Both players were members of last year's gold-medal winning team.
"Tonight was really big for our camaraderie and our confidence," Campbell said. "Trailing by a goal, grinding it out in the third period, or whatever the situation may be, we know we can do it."
Brown, meanwhile, has been a consistent force up front for the Americans. He finished the preliminary round with a goal and plus-1 rating. His 16 shots were the second-most on the team, behind only Ryan Bourque's 18.
"I think the team has just a really good job over these four games," Brown said. "We've got an extra day off now to get some rest. We battled hard tonight, especially in the third period. It was the first sign of adversity and I think we handled it pretty well. We responded quickly, and I think it's going to improve our team going forward."
The Americans semi-final game will be played at 6:30 CT on Monday. The gold-medal game is scheduled for Wednesday at 6:30 CT.