Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

OHL: Road wins help Campbell feel at home with ‘Hounds

From a distance, Jack Campbell seems to carry a locked-in certitude about what he can do in a goal crease.

It didn't ebb last season with the Windsor Spitfires, even though the Dallas Stars first-rounder's save percentage was south of .900 much of the season. It's almost off-putting. Shouldn't a 19-year-old seem rattled once in a while? However, Campbell admits some self-doubt seeped in after the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds made a blockbuster trade to acquire him from the Spitfires last Wednesday. The goalie who stood tall after coming off the bench for Team USA halfway through the world junior gold-medal game two years felt his stomach churn a bit.

"I was pretty nervous, I'm not going to lie — I was pretty out of my comfort zone," Campbell said Sunday after making 27 saves to help Sault Ste. Marie beat the Ottawa 67's 3-2. "I've never been traded before. But the second I walked on the bus, everyone was coming up to me and just making me feel welcome. From there we've just taken it to a new level ... I went up to everybody and shook their hand and since then it's been like I've been playing with them all year."

The Greyhounds looked tight-knit as they bounced off the ice after completing their comeback win over the Eastern Conference-leading 67's. Junior hockey teams aren't supposed to win when it's their third road game in four days, they dress only 17 skaters and spot a first-place team an early 2-0 lead. Yet the Greyhounds, more than half of whom have come in via trades by first-year general manager Kyle Dubas, overcame that. Sixteen-year-old Nick Halagian's first OHL goal stood as the game-winner.

Captain Carson Dubchak woke up the 'Hounds with a big hit on 67's defenceman Jake Cardwell, a possible charging infraction that went uncalled, and fighting Dalton Smith. Campbell's new roommate, centre Nick Cousins, cut that early two-goal margin in half by stripping the puck from Ottawa's Michal Cajkovsky and scoring. Sault Ste. Marie kept Ottawa's dangerous scorers on the perimeter all afternoon, even while killing three third-period penalties.

For Campbell, whose best saves were on Ben Dubois and 50-goal scorer Tyler Toffoli late in the second, Sunday might have reaffirmed why he's in the OHL. It was something he says he didn't fully appreciate in late 2009 when he de-committed from the University of Michigan in favour of the Spitfires, then in the midst of their Memorial Cup reign.

"I was thinking about that a couple months ago, actually," he said. It wasn't necessarily between Michigan and the OHL — it was between Michigan and Windsor. They have an unbelievable coaching staff, the general manager, Warren Rychel, is great, the fan support is unbelievable. It's just a great place to play hockey. I feel it's helped my development. I learned a lot last year. I had a tough season to start the year and finished the year strong and now I'm in a good position to help this [Greyhounds] team win."

"Warren did a lot for me," Campbell added. "He said he was going to play me a lot, he played me a lot. I felt if there was anything I could do to help that organization after I was gone, I would."

Quick bonding

While some wondered about Rychel unloading older players before the first snow flies, the timing of the deal worked out well for the Greyhounds. Dubas completed the deal just in time for the team's eastern Ontario swing, the kind of long road trip which helps a team grow into a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

After joining the Spitfires around 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Campbell was able to start in 'Hounds wins over Kingston and Ottawa. All told, he stopped 54-of-57 shots.

The 67's are one of just three teams in the OHL averaging more than four goals per game. Yet the Soo seemed firmly in control. The 67's power play, which features four players who will appear in this week's Subway Super Series, went 0-for-7 even though there were times when Toffoli and Cody Ceci, et al., kept possession in the 'Hounds zone for more than a minute at a time.

"He's a good kid," Cousins, a Philadelphia Flyers pick, said of Campbell. "He brings leadership to our dressing room, gives us a chance. Obviously he saved us in the third when they had all those power plays."

Campbell, who still has his Spitfires equipment bag, started each of the past two seasons sharing the net with an overager, Troy Passingham last season and John Cullen this fall. With the Soo, he's expected to take 17-year-old NHL draft hopeful Matt Murray under his wing.

"The first thing they told me was, 'there's a young kid here's who's an elite talent' and sure enough, he is that," Campbell said.

The Greyhounds practised in Smith Falls, Ont., about 30 minutes southwest of Ottawa, during their off-day on Saturday. Murray said Campbell got right down to mentoring. It eased the sting of being bumped to backup status.

"When Jack's on the ice, he never gives up on a shot," Murray said. "He stayed on with me for a half-hour afterward, just working with me on some stuff I need to work on, such as my puckhandling. His dedication was what struck me. He's a really focused individual and hopefully some of that will rub off on me.

"At first it was disappointing and then I started to look at the positives," added Murray, who will get some starts over the Christmas holidays while Campbell is in Alberta with Team USA. "I'm still going to get my fair share of playing time and get to learn from one of the best in the business. How can you complain about that?"

Sunday's win kept the Greyhounds (12-7-0-0) in third spot in the OHL's Western Conference, four points behind the Sarnia Sting. It's early yet to determine whether Dubas' roll of the dice — loading up Rychel's cupboard with eight players, prospects and priority selection draft choices — will be a home run for the 'Hounds. It is clear it is not lost on Campbell that he's expected to deliver a deep playoff run.

"I realize what they gave up to get me and I have to go out there every single game and give them a chance to win," he said.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: Mike Carroccetto).

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