EDMONTON - It was not the way Jack Campbell had pictured ending his illustrious world junior career – a meaningless game against first-place Team Canada before heading to the relegation round.
In the end, the Team USA goalie couldn't even end his tenure at the under-20 tournament with a final win in the round-robin, losing a 3-2 nail-biter to the semifinal-bound Canadians.
"I'm a winner and I only accept one thing and that's that little gold (medal) around my neck," said Campbell, who won gold in 2010 and bronze in 2011. "Even last year getting the bronze, I couldn't sleep for a few weeks. It's an honour to play for this team, to be a part of this tournament and to have 20,000 Canadians screaming my name and things like that – those are memories I'll always have. It's a disappointing finish this year, but it's just been an honour to play here."
For the amount of abuse Campbell took from the Canadian fans, those memories should last a lifetime. A good 20 minutes before the game had even started, fans at Rexall Place began their taunting by chanting Campbell's name. After the first period, with the Canadians taking an early 3-0 lead, the jeers became worse.
With just seconds left in the game, Campbell was pulled in favour of the extra attacker. Sitting on the U.S. bench, he had the opportunity to take in the experience of the more than 16,000 fans chanting his name – albeit in a hostile fashion. Still, despite the unwelcome atmosphere, Campbell was unbelievably gracious in defeat.
"I was just sitting there listening to it," said Campbell, who plays for the OHL's Soo Greyhounds. "As weird as this may sound, I'm so thankful that the fans were this involved in the hockey. Obviously they weren't chanting my name to root for me but it was a special thing. At least I can tell my grandkids that 20,000 people were once screaming my name. Their passion for the game is the best in the world, so it's been a lot of fun to be a part (of the tournament) for the last three years."
The U.S. will now play in the relegation round as the tournament moves to Calgary. It's the first time since 1999 that the Americans have been forced to play outside of the medal round.
"People will say that we don't have a lot of character in our room for the way we finished as far as the standings go," said Campbell. "We have a lot of character. It's tough to come into this building and play against Canada. I know every single guy played their hearts out and did everything they could to get a win here."
The Americans (1-3) finished the round-robin portion with three straight losses. The stunning 5-2 loss to the Czech Republic on Friday was the knockout blow for any chance the U.S. had of getting a medal. In that game, Campbell was bested by Czech goalie Petr Mrazek who made 52 saves in an incredible performance. Team USA head coach Dean Blais said Campbell was so distraught after making 24 saves in the loss to the Czechs that he had no choice but to start him against the rival Canadians.
"He felt bad obviously," said Blais. "He felt we lost that game because of him and that the other goalie from (the Czech Republic) outplayed him. He was very, very disappointed and more importantly because it knocked us out of the medal round. He was dreaming of another gold medal. He was very emotional after last night and I had no choice but to play him. It was the right thing to do, it was the humanitarian thing to do and I had a gut feeling like coaches get sometimes."
Campbell rebounded with a 30-save effort against the Canadians and after a shaky first period, he was once again showing glimpses of his tournament nickname, "World Junior Jack."
"We're not going to use any excuses," said the native of Port Huron, Mich. "Canada's a great team. They brought their A-game and their coaches prepared them well and the players executed. I'd expect nothing less from Canada, it's the reason they're the best in the world. It was a fun game, but (the finish is) really disappointing."
After the Canada loss, the first-round pick (11th overall) of the Dallas Stars in 2010 was decidedly more philosophical.
"If you look at great teams and you look at the NHL, they have all year to prepare for the playoffs and here it's just a matter of gelling and getting that chemistry," said Campbell. "It just takes one bad game to end your tournament and that's what happened to us."
But even so, the 6-foot-3, 184-pound goalie wanted to take the blame for his team's poor overall performance despite the fact he didn't even start for the Americans in their 4-1 loss to Finland in the second game of the tournament.
"Basically the difference between this year's team and the past is that we obviously had the offence this year as far as skill, but we just didn't finish like we did in the past," said Campbell. "I take full responsibility for our standings. I expect to be the best every time I step on the ice and the last two games I simply wasn't."
No matter how Campbell finishes his world junior career, he will still leave as one of America's most decorated goalies in international play also having won the tournament's top goaltender honour in 2011, as well as an all-star nod.
"I think I got a little spoiled because I expected to win gold every year," said the 19-year-old. "I came up here this year and liked our chances, but the reality is these fans are unbelievable and it really does have an effect on the hockey game. It's very hard to play in front of that ... but it's been an honour to play for this team for three years and obviously I'm disappointed, but I've had a great career."
- Jack Campbell