When forward Gregory Campbell was traded to the Bruins this offseason, he was excited to be coming to a team that has Stanley Cup aspirations and could help him reach the playoffs for the first time. But there were some bittersweet feelings because Campbell would be playing in front of Boston fans who, well, let’s just say who aren’t too fond of his father.
“I don’t expect a warm reception at first until I show them what I can do on the ice and that I’m excited to be here,” Campbell said last month at captain’s practices prior to training camp.
Last March, Campbell’s father, Colin, the NHL's senior vice president and director of hockey operations and the league's principal disciplinarian, decided that the open-ice hit by Penguins forward Matt Cooke to the head of Bruins center Marc Savard did not warrant a suspension. Savard suffered a Grade 2 concussion from the hit, missed nearly two months before returning for the Eastern Conference semifinals series against the Flyers, and is still suffering post-concussion symptoms, leaving his status for this season unclear.
That incident was one of the main factors behind the NHL unanimously approving a rule this past offseason prohibiting "a lateral, back-pressure or blindside hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact.”
Gregory Campbell, who was dealt with Nathan Horton from Florida for defenseman Dennis Wideman and first-round draft pick, said he already has received some jeers he figures are the result of the Savard-Cooke incident, but he’s rolling with it.
“Yeah, I’ve heard it a bit already but it’s no big deal,” Campbell said with a laugh prior to leaving with his team for Europe; the Bruins open the season with two games against Phoenix on Saturday and Sunday in Prague. "I’m used to this so it’s all good. I understand that that’s my father’s job and I’ve got a job to do as well. It doesn’t effect how I feel for him or the situation I’m in. It really has nothing to do with me, but sometimes people forget that. It’s OK.”
The elder Campbell feels for his son because he realizes it’s inevitable that their jobs will intertwine. As his son pointed out, his father’s job has affected him and sometimes fans and opposing players forget that Gregory isn’t the one making the disciplinary decisions.
“Doing this job hasn’t been a pleasant experience as a hockey player for Gregory. I realize that and I know it’s tough for him,” Colin Campbell said. “He’s gotten lots of flack over my decisions and the things I do so, I feel bad from that aspect. It’s totally separate and it’s got nothing to do with him, but he certainly feels it because we’re related. There are positive aspects to this, but there can be negatives.”
The positives the elder Campbell alluded to are the positive influences growing up in hockey can have.
“There are kids who grow up in hockey and I think they have an inside track on making it because they know what it takes to make it,” the elder Campbell said. “They’re around the dressing room and they see the work the players are participating in.
“When I was coaching the Rangers, my son used to live in the dressing room and hang out with the trainers. He would see everything that goes and needs to go on to be an NHL player and survive at this level. He went on road trips with me. He saw the energy and the dedication that the players need and understood what the life was like being the son of a coach -- he was too young to remember me as a player -- and I think that’s reflective in all the players that have had similar upbringings.”
Colin Campbell was an assistant coach for the 1993-94 New York Rangers, who gave the Big Apple its first Stanley Cup since 1940. Gregory had the pleasure of riding in the victory parade through Manhattan and it’s something both he and his dad will treasure forever.
“That was a special memory for both of us,” said Colin Campbell. “It was great for Gregory to experience that at such a young age. He got to see the ultimate reward for an NHLer and that sticks with you.”
As far as not suspending Cooke last March effecting his son’s career, "The Sheriff," as he is known around the league, expressed some regret over the incident.
“For the most part, 75 percent of the players we’re dealing with are repeat offenders and that was probably the aggravating part about the Savard situation was that Cooke was a repeat offender and you wish you could’ve found some way to nail him, but it was hard," Campbell said. “That’s why the rule has changed. There were some aspects to that incident that just weren’t right and that’s why it initiated a rule change.”
Campbell said the Savard-Cooke decision was one of his toughest he's made and one on which it was hard to remain objective.
“It’s hard because when you deal with something like that from my position, you're supposed to move on to the next case. But I’m also a father and I’ve seen Gregory go through that, getting concussed twice recently,” Campbell said. “I also coached Marc Savard when he came into the league and trust me that was one of the more difficult ones to decide on.”
To prevent conflict of interest issues, in the event the Bruins or any of Gregory's current or former teams is involved in a potential disciplinary incident, NHL vice president of hockey operations Mike Murphy takes the case. Such was the case last season, when Mike Richards laid a blindside hit to the head of Panthers forward David Booth. Murphy didn't see enough evidence under the rules to suspend Richards, just as Colin Campbell ruled in the Savard-Cooke incident.
Colin Campbell hopes neither situation arises again.
"That's the point of the new rule and you hope the players respect that and each other," the disciplinary czar said.
Campbell the proud father also hopes that Gregory can make fans forget the actions of his father by being the player the Bruins saw when they traded for him. He also believes that fans may be surprised by his son's offensive potential. Gregory Campbell led the Kitchener Rangers to the 2003 Memorial Cup with 15 goals and 23 points, and his dad thinks that skill is ready to emerge in the NHL.
“He’s a great two-way player and he’s very good defensively, but that’s probably osmosis because I was a defenseman and I won’t lie, I was no Bobby Orr,” the former NHL blueliner said with a laugh. “I always projected that to be a strength for Gregory, but he still has some offensive flair.”