BOSTON – It was almost two weeks ago that Gregory Campbell hopped in front of an Evgeni Malkin blast during a penalty kill shift, broke his right fibula, and courageously finished out his shift with only one leg still working.
The look of pain shooting through Campbell’s face as he dragged himself up off the ice touched off emotions of pride within the hockey community, and has been an inspiration for the Boston Bruins as they’ve pushed to a 2-1 lead over the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final.
“It hurt a little bit,” Campbell admitted in the understatement of the year.
For the fourth-line center now recuperating from surgery that will push him back 6-8 weeks, it was just a matter of doing his job and getting up off the ice as every hockey coach has taught him to do from the very first time he was on skates.
Campbell’s teammates immediately made him feel at ease for picking on the white pants he was wearing walking into the B’s dressing room on Tuesday.
That’s always the “go-to” chirp for a stylish guy in Campbell that appreciates his fashion as much as anybody in a clothes horse B’s dressing room.
“Today, I was wearing white jeans,” Campbell said. “[Shawn Thornton] said the last time he saw a pair of white jeans was when he got into his last bar fight.”
But on a serious note, Campbell was blown away at the response around the league after going down with the broken leg. The fourth line center got text messages from every player on the team, witnessed the tweets of pride from players around the NHL happy to be associated with a sport that could produce such a moment of pure will triumphing over pain, and heard the appreciation from everybody in the hockey world.
“I’m really glad that he’s doing okay. He really wants to be out there. Nobody wants to be out there more than him,” said Thornton. “I’ve been joking with him that he seems happier now. He was always game-facing me when he was playing.”
But at the same time the hard-working center just wants to be known as a player simply doing his job, and that includes stepping in front of heat-seeking missile slappers that can shatter bones.
“There's been an overwhelming amount of support for me. It's humbling, to be honest with you,” Campbell said. “The way I look at it, it might sound naïve of me, but I was just trying to do whatever I could to kill the penalty. [I was just trying to] help out. At that point, I really wasn't thinking much. There are a lot of players right now that are playing not 100 percent, and there are a lot of guys that play through pain.
“I don't see myself any different than anybody else in this league. There are a lot of tough guys in this league. [There are] a lot of players willing to do whatever they can to win. At this point, you see that more often, guys doing whatever they can to win. I'm no different than anyone else on these two teams in the playoffs. I was just trying to finish the play and do my job.”
That’s typical of Campbell’s attitude in a leadership role for the Bruins, and the team mindset that no player is more important than anybody else in the dressing room. It also fits right in with the blue collar work ethic within the Boston dressing room that’s allowed them to beat down higher-powered offensive units like the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Chicago Blackhawks.
“This Original Six organization goes back a long way. It kind of represents the city, a blue‑collar, hard‑working city with honest people,” Campbell said. “When I got traded to Boston, I thought it was tailor‑made to my game the way this team exemplifies the heart and soul of what a hockey player should be made of. I was proud to come to this team, and play hard for this team every night.
“There are 18 other guys in that room that would do the same thing, and that's what makes us successful. It makes us a hard team to play against. I'd rather be known for my play other than getting hurt. But, like I said, I just want to play hard for the team and for the players in that room.”
Campbell didn’t make the first trip to Chicago with the Bruins after undergoing the surgery at the beginning of last week, and it’s clear he’s been missed as the centerpiece of the NHL’s best fourth line.
Thornton has become something of a forgotten man in the B’s lineup with the Merlot Line broken up, and Daniel Paille has been pulled up to the third line where he’s scored goals in each of the last two Cup Final games.
“It was a tough week, not because of surgery, but just because I didn't feel a part of the team. It’s not because anybody left me out. I was included a lot. I got text messages every day from all the guys, even from staff and whatnot,” Campbell said. “It's just not being there, you know, you naturally feel a little bit excluded and helpless. To walk in yesterday and see the guys was a great relief for me.
“To know that they do still recognize me, and I am still a part of the team. Being around the dressing room is just kind of second nature to me. I love being around the room. Having that taken away from you really makes you realize how fortunate I am to be a part of this team, a part of this group. Everybody's extremely close in there. It was like being separated from your family for a few days, then kind of rejoining them.”
It’s not just Campbell that’s lucky, however.
The Bruins are lucky to have such deep impact players operating in bottom six forward roles for them, and they’re lucky to have found a way to carry on without Campbell for the next couple of weeks.
If they’re very lucky they’ll find a way to garner two more wins with Campbell’s inspirational PK shift as their rallying cry, and it will become one of the iconic images for Boston’s amazing run to the Cup.