Campbell heating up in net amidst Toronto's run up PWHL standings

TORONTO — It was always about keeping it simple for Kristen Campbell.

The starting goaltender for the Professional Women's Hockey League's Toronto squad has turned a corner along with the team, over the past month. Toronto has won five of its last six games, with Campbell winning five straight outings with two shutouts and only seven goals allowed.

"Obviously it wasn't the start that we wanted but it was less than a handful of games, so I think just sticking with the process, and keeping things simple and getting better each and every game (has been key)," Campbell said after Tuesday's practice.

"Now I've been able to string together five wins in a row, the first one was a big one getting that shootout win in Montreal (on Jan. 20) and then just … making improvements each game and tweaking things as I go and I feel like I'm in a good place right now with my game and so is the team."

Campbell had a 3.00 goals-against average through the first five games of the season while the entire team struggled to a 1-4-0 record. However, head coach Troy Ryan stuck with his 26-year-old netminder and his confidence that she would right the ship never wavered.

"I don't think she would be comfortable with her play, I don't think we were comfortable with her play but we also weren't comfortable with the way we were playing as a group," Ryan said of Campbell and the team's start. "So it's a perfect storm.

"I think sticking with her was the key, show that you believe in her. I think another key was her having success in that shootout in Montreal. I think they used (Marie-Philip) Poulin four times and Campbell stopped her three times."

Ryan sees a level of ease in Campbell's play now.

"I think she just looks solid, I think she looks comfortable, she looks big and strong," he said. "I think the biggest saves that she's been forced to make, have been some on the penalty kill.

"I just showed a video of our group, I think we blocked a number of shots on the penalty kill. So when you combine a goalie that you want to play hard in front of, and she made some key saves, that makes people play a little more confident in other ends of the rink."

Campbell had her best performance with a 30-save shutout against Montreal last Friday in a 3-0 victory in front of a record-setting crowd at Scotiabank Arena. She made numerous saves across six penalty kills and earned her second shutout in four games to lead the PWHL in that category.

"She's our backbone, we're so lucky to have her," Toronto forward Hannah Miller said of Campbell post-game last Friday.

Asked about Campbell's recent play on Tuesday, forward Emma Maltais showed her teammate some love.

"Soupy," Maltais exclaimed with Campbell within earshot before the two teammates shared a laugh together. "She's been playing really good. … It goes to show, they've barely scored in the last couple games so the stats show it."

Despite the current rise, Campbell still feels as though she and the team haven't peaked yet. She's also adamant about having never lost confidence regardless of the circumstances.

"I always had the confidence," she said. "In my career, I've gone through a lot of highs and a lot of lows and I always find a way to conquer adversity. I welcome adversity, I think it makes you better, it makes you stronger as a person and as a goaltender.

"I'm not honestly wishing that anything went differently at the start. I think that we had that start, obviously it wasn't ideal, but that's what has allowed us to thrive now, going through that early.

"I always had the confidence in myself and knew what I'm capable of. Tapping into it and obviously putting wins to show for it helps but I think overall, just feeling good about the team's game right now and my individual game as well."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 20, 2024.

Abdulhamid Ibrahim, The Canadian Press