AUDIO INTERVIEWS: Includes audio interviews with Los Angeles Kings right wing Jordan Nolan, goaltender Martin Jones, head coach Darryl Sutter, and defenseman Andrew Campbell.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — At the risk of raining on rookie defenseman Andrew Campbell’s parade, even he knows that he isn’t likely to be with the Los Angeles Kings for very long, especially if defenseman Drew Doughty’s suspected shoulder injury heals soon.
That said, the 6-4, 206-pound native of Caledonia, Ontario made his National Hockey League debut on April 5, in Vancouver, where the Kings lost, 2-1.
That’s an accomplishment that no one can take away or diminish. Nevertheless, some might think, “big deal! We always hear stories about a young player making his NHL debut, and they’re all pretty much the same.”
The difference here is that Campbell has toiled in the American Hockey League with the Manchester Monarchs since he was selected by the Kings in third round (74th overall) of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
Indeed, Campbell has been stuck in the minors for nearly six years, an unusually long time for an NHL prospect, even for a stay-at-home defenseman who is the antithesis of the term, “flashy.”
Campbell, who scored three goals and tallied 13 assists for 16 points, with 58 penalty minutes and a +17 plus/minus rating in 68 games with the Monarchs this season, indicated that he was not expecting to be the one to get the call.
“There’s a lot of good players down there,” said the 26-year-old, left-shot blue liner. “It certainly could’ve been some other guys, too. But I’m thankful it was my opportunity. It was definitely a surprise on Friday afternoon, when I got the call. But it’s something I’ll always remember.”
Campbell did not know he would be making his NHL debut until that morning.
“Darryl let me know right before the morning skate,” said Campbell. “It was nice to know before the skate so I could calm my nerves down there on the ice, feel the puck, and get used to my surroundings.”
“He just pulled me aside and told me that I earned it,” added Campbell. “It was Hockey Night in Canada, and I earned the chance to be able to get into a game. He congratulated me, and said, ‘be solid for us.’”
Before the game started, Campbell’s teammates had a little “gift” for him.
“Just before warm-ups, I was standing in the room, and all the guys were getting on me to lead the way out to warm-ups,” he explained. “Once I stepped out, onto the ice, the other guys held themselves in the tunnel, and gave me couple of laps by myself. It was pretty funny. A cool moment.”
Indeed, Campbell was on the ice for warm-ups for a short time without a teammate anywhere on the ice.
“I know [goaltender Jonathan Quick] was at the front of the line, and [center Anze Kopitar] was behind him,” said Campbell. “I saw the replay, and they were both having a pretty good chuckle at it. [Defenseman] Willie [Mitchell] might’ve led the way, but I think it was a collective effort among all the guys.”
“I just tried to take it all in, and enjoy the moment. It was a pretty neat thing the guys did.”
His first shift came just 37 seconds into the game, after an icing call against the Canucks.
“It was a really surreal experience, skating out there during a stoppage in play, just kind of taking in everything,” he noted. “It was a really cool experience. The whole day was kind of a whirlwind, between finding out, the game, and then the flight back here. Everything went pretty quick, but it’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life, for sure.”
Campbell’s parents were unable to make the trip to Vancouver on such short notice, but there was a big gathering at their home to watch their son play in his first NHL game.
“They had between twenty and thirty friends and family over at the house, watching the game with my Mom and Dad, my sister, my fiancee, aunts and uncles,” Campbell beamed. “I think it was a pretty surreal moment for them, too. For them to see my lifetime dream come true, I think it was a pretty special moment for them.”
“There’s dozens and dozens and dozens of text messages, calls and e-mails, messages on social media, it was pretty neat,” Campbell added.
A couple of Campbell’s former Monarchs teammates, now current Kings teammates, were thrilled for him.
“He stuck with it, he works hard every day, and he’s the captain down there, so to see him get a chance after this long, and knowing him pretty well, I’m real happy for the guy,” said right wing Jordan Nolan. “Obviously, you want to get a shot [at playing in the NHL] any time during your career, and he’s been there for a long time. To finally get a shot now is great for him.”
“That was awesome,” said goaltender Martin Jones. “Soupy’s a really easy guy to root for. He does [everything] the right way, he’s a hard-working guy, he’s put in his time in the minors, and he always been an awesome teammate down there, and he played a great game.”
Both Nolan and Jones were first-hand witnesses to Campbell’s perseverance and positive attitude.
“He’s been down in the American league for a long time,” said Nolan. “He’s not someone who would complain, or [ask], ‘how come I’m not getting a chance?’”
“He’s an easy guy to root for because he does do things the right way,” Jones noted. “He doesn’t sulk, he doesn’t feel sorry for himself. He works hard every day in Manchester, and he’s put in his time. I’m really happy to see a guy like that get called up.”
Jones and Nolan also pointed to Campbell’s leadership qualities.
“He’s been around for a long time, so he knows how to play the game,” said Jones. “He knows how to play it hard, and how to play it right. For him, it’s just compete every night, and leave nothing on the table.”
“He’s just a heart-and-soul kind of guy,” Nolan indicated. “Probably around ten blocks a game down in the American league. He’s always blocking shots, he’s always throwing his body around, and he’s always getting the boys wound up on the bench. He’s one of the leaders down there.”
“He’s the kind of guy who will do anything he can for his teammates,” Nolan added. “If you watch him play, he’s constantly throwing his body in front of pucks, laying his body on the line for us. He’s a real team player, a shut-down guy, and he’s willing to do anything he can to help the team.”
Kings head coach Darryl Sutter is generally reticent to praise any player, always stressing the team aspect of the game. As such, it was no surprise that he did not have a lot to say about Campbell’s NHL debut.
“I’m happy for him,” he said. “We basically put him in where [defenseman] Robyn [Regher] was. I was trying to give him those situations. He probably would’ve done some things differently if he had to do [them] again, but for a game that meant a lot to him, that’s awesome.”
As alluded to earlier, every NHL player has made his debut, and it usually makes for a decent story. However, far fewer players make their NHL debut after toiling away in the minors for as long as Campbell has, which is a testament to his determination, dedication, and perseverance.
“I always try to keep a positive outlook, and I have great support around me with my friends and family, so I’ve kept my eyes on the prize,” he noted.
Nevertheless, for NHL prospects in Campbell’s position, human nature dictates that there are going to be times when frustration sets in. There will be occasional doubts about whether or not they’re ever going to get their chance to play in the NHL, and there will be times when they wonder what it will take for that opportunity to finally present itself.
Campbell is no exception.
“There’s ups and downs during a season, and during those down times, you wonder if you’re ever going to get that chance,” he said. “[But] I’ve pushed through those days, and worked through them. I’ve definitely had a lot more high times than low times, for sure.”
“I’ve definitely had those days,” he added. “It’s such a long season, especially in the minors, [where] you’ll play three games on a weekend, and the whole week, you’re practicing. There’s definitely those days where it’s tough to keep pushing through, keep that dream in mind, come to the rink and work.”
Campbell indicated that knowing that he is always under the watchful eye of the Kings keeps him pushing forward.
“It’s self-motivation,” he noted. “It’s just realizing that you’re one step below the NHL, so you know there’s eyes on you every night, from people in the Kings organization, and you know they’re taking notes.”
Also providing motivation and inspiration has been seeing teammates, all former Kings prospects who also spent a long time with the Monarchs, get their shot at playing in the NHL.
“If you look at other guys, there’s [defenseman] Thomas Hickey, who got picked up on waivers [by the New York Islanders], and he’s excelled there,” said Nolan. “[Center] Marc-André Cliche got an NHL contract [with the Colorado Avalanche], and [forward Rich Clune’s] got a contract [with the Nashville Predators]. All of those guys had been there for a long time, but they got a chance to play.”
“Teams are watching [Campbell],” added Nolan. “They know what he can do, and what he can do at this level now. Hopefully, he can impress some people.”
Campbell’s one-year, $537,500 contract expires at the end of this season, and unless the Kings sign him to a new contract prior to July 1, he will become an unrestricted free agent.
A logical scenario for Campbell would be for him to sign with another NHL team that would not have him buried so deep on their depth chart.
If Campbell re-signs with the Kings, should he fail to make their 2014-15 roster, he would have to clear waivers in order to be assigned to the Monarchs (he had to clear waivers at the start of the 2013-14 season), giving other NHL teams the opportunity to claim him.
Given all that, now that he has made his NHL debut, with all eyes on him, it would seem that Campbell has moved at least a bit closer to getting an opportunity to play in the NHL on a regular basis…somewhere.
“You never know what can happen,” he said. “You’ve just got to realize that your lifetime dream can come true that quick if you stay focused.”
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Jordan Nolan (2:11)
Martin Jones (1:43)
Andrew Campbell (6:43)
Darryl Sutter (6:06)
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