Campbell’s joy in record night for Leafs a reminder of human side of game

TORONTO — Jack Campbell has emerged from unlikely circumstances to keep the Toronto Maple Leafs humming along amid a campaign that might otherwise have been swallowed whole by an injury to his goaltending partner.

And in establishing a new franchise record for consecutive wins on Wednesday night, Campbell went one further: He managed to show us the kind of real genuine emotion this sanitized pandemic season has so sorely been missing.

Let me be clear.

Through the fault of no one — least of all the players and team staff being subjected to restrictive safety protocols every day, or the league personnel now into their 13th month of finding solutions to overwhelmingly large problems — this simply hasn’t felt the same. Games played entirely or mostly without fans. Stories and anecdotes and thoughts all filtered through perfunctory Zoom media availabilities that are wearing on everyone involved.

Then you had Campbell pull on a headset for a post-game interview with my Sportsnet colleague Shawn McKenzie and remind us all why we love these games. It’s the human side of the athletes and the superhuman things they’re capable of doing on the field of play.

In Campbell’s case, it’s the twisting 11-year road from being a highly touted draft pick who failed to meet expectations, and then ending up here winning 10 straight starts for the Maple Leafs while Frederik Andersen is sidelined indefinitely.

And really it’s about the fact the 29-year-old has held on to this pure genuine way of being despite every challenge thrown his way. That’s why you had Auston Matthews telling Campbell how “f—ing proud of him” he was during a poignant exchange on the ice after Wednesday’s 3-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens. And Mitch Marner joyfully counting off the 10 straight wins that earned Campbell an entry in the Leafs record book.