- Craig Custance
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OSTRAVA, Czech Republic -- Team USA coach Todd Richards said the decision to go with Jack Campbell in goal against the powerhouse Russians was simply one of opportunity.
The Americans played three games in four days of preliminary action at the 2015 World Championships, with Winnipeg Jets prospect Connor Hellebuyck getting the early starts. It would have been asking a lot to give him another against Russia.
“That’s a pretty heavy workload,” Richards said after Team USA beat the Russians 4-2.
So Campbell got the nod. He got the assignment against a Russian team loaded with scorers such as Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin and Vladimir Tarasenko -- a team that is also the reigning champion of this tournament.
Campbell is a decorated American competitor, with three gold medals, including, notably, a gold with the American team in the 2010 world junior championship.
That was also five years ago.
Since then, Campbell was made the No. 11 overall pick by the Dallas Stars in 2010 and has been battling through a rocky start to his professional career. He spent parts of four seasons with the AHL Texas Stars, with a pedestrian .907 save percentage this past year. He also spent seven games in the ECHL.
Watching from the stands, Stars assistant GM Les Jackson said he was glad to see Campbell get the start against a team loaded with NHL-level snipers.
It was a great test for a player the Stars would love to see return to the prospect who wowed the hockey world in his draft year.
“He’s maturing. He’s in a good place,” Jackson said a few minutes before the game. “He’s still a young kid learning. I think a lot of people think he should be in the NHL. He’s in the place where he should be, playing there.”
In Team USA’s impressive win over the Russians, Campbell’s teammates did the heavy lifting. The Russians came in averaging more than 30 shots per game in the tournament, and the Americans limited them to 17 shots. Campbell saved 15 and drew praise from not only his teammates but also scouts in attendance.
“He’s a competitor,” Bruins and Team USA defenseman Torey Krug said. “The way he played definitely didn’t surprise me. It’s always fun when you have a guy like that who competes and battles for the puck. We’re glad he’s on our side.”
Campbell is always going to be seen through the lens of where he was drafted -- just outside the top 10, with the Stars passing on guys such as Cam Fowler, Jaden Schwartz and Tarasenko to grab the American goalie.
He might never live up to those expectations, but a win such as Monday’s in the Czech Republic can be one to build upon. The history of the World Championships is filled with players who starred there and gained confidence to bring to their NHL teams.
“My game has been developing over the last few years. I’m really confident in my game,” Campbell said postgame. “I’m here 100 percent to represent my country. I didn’t think of anything else, except when they offered me a chance, how excited I was. You don’t think you’ll get another shot to represent your country, and here I am.”
An offseason from Kari Lehtonen has thrown the future of the Dallas Stars goaltending into doubt. If they had a decent backup, they might have been a playoff team this season. Goalie will no doubt be an area of focus for GM Jim Nill in the offseason.
It also creates a bit of an opening for Campbell, though Jackson warned the club will continue to take a patient approach with the 23-year-old Campbell.
“He’s a consideration. He’s better off getting games in the American League level, that’s better than getting the odd game in the NHL level. It wouldn’t make sense for him to sit,” Jackson said. “Very few guys are like [Carey] Price who come in and play. Marty Turco, when he joined us, he made it when he was 26. Jack is an all-in guy. He’s got a great attitude, a great work ethic. Some of the bumps he’s had are normal.”
Decorated American Jack Campbell got the start at the World Championships against a Russian team loaded with scorers, and he didn't disappoint.