Leave it to a guy with the initials J.C. to always turn the other cheek.
After Matthew Tkachuk accidentally on purpose drove his left knee into the back of a face-down Jack Campbell’s head during a crease scramble Sunday, the Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender shook it off and took the high road.
“I don’t really look at him as a menace out there,” Campbell said of the Calgary Flames’ all-star agitator. “He’s just a really good hockey player. Anytime he’s out there, I’m always aware. He’s really good in front of the net and setting up his teammates.”
After rookie phenom Tim Stützle torched Campbell with an alley-oop one-timer in Ottawa last week, Campbell could only smile at the teenager’s skill.
“I just want to shake his hand. That was a heck of a play,” Campbell said. “What a young talent. It’s good for the league.”
And when a reporter playfully asked in training camp if Jack “Soupy” Campbell felt slightest twinge of jealousy that the Leafs’ other “Soup,” Ilya Mikheyev, was the one landing Campbell’s soup endorsements, the goalie again unfolded his wide, butterfly-stance grin.
“I’m more jealous of the people who get to work with him on the commercials, because he’s such a good time,” Campbell replied. “He’s got a charismatic demeanour. I’m happy he got the commercial. Maybe we can do it together sometime.”
Irrepressibly positive and upbeat, Jack Campbell’s glass isn’t only half full. It’s overflowing. With the sweetest Kool-Aid $1.65 million can buy.
The guy has the power to turn Debbie Downer’s day around.
Campbell frequently espouses on the talents of his fellow Leafs, deflecting all praise their way. He often begins his responses to reporters with “Good question!” Or, sometimes, “Great question!”
Thing is, Campbell is as genuine as he is affable. No wonder he’s become so rapidly beloved by fans and teammates alike.
“I thought when I met him that he was Eddie Haskell. He isn’t,” Mike Futa recently told Sportsnet 590 The Fan. Futa was part of the Los Angeles Kings’ front office that traded for the Dallas Stars’ first-rounder in 2016. “He’s absolutely the nicest kid in the world. He’s genuinely the best teammate I’ve been around.
“This is Jack. And I don’t think he gets enough credit for what he brings to the organization.”
In 2021, that’s beginning to change.
Credit is flowing Campbell’s way because of the backup’s sparkling performance on the ice — 2-0-0, 2.00 GAA, .923 save percentage — and not because of his sparkling approach to life off it.
When my daughter asks what kind of guy she should date, I should just play a Jack Campbell interview
— Papa Pro (@propapa_d) January 25, 2021
Following Sunday’s sloppy, jet-lagged 3-2 win over Tkachuk & Co., Auston Matthews proclaimed Campbell “a rock star” and “a brick wall” — the latter a term Matthews usually reserves for Andersen.
“He definitely saved us there, for sure,” Matthews said of Campbell’s 31-save performance.
“He was huge,” added coach Sheldon Keefe. “You don’t get through ugly games like this with a win without your goaltender being your best player.
“He gave our guys great confidence, maybe too much confidence at times. But he was outstanding. It’s another great effort by him.”
Two for two.
The 2021 Campbell is looking like the 2018 Curtis McElhinney, with more back pats and less mileage.
To think: The Maple Leafs waited 39 games in 2019-20 before securing two victories from Frederik Andersen’s understudy. The undefeated Campbell helped accomplish that feat in just seven games this season.
So, as Keefe calls the Tkachuk crash a “non-issue,” it’s certainly concerning that Campbell wasn’t well enough to participate in Monday’s practice. (A health update is expected Tuesday.) The Leafs need him.
Since GM Kyle Dubas traded for his fellow Soo Greyhounds alumnus in February, Campbell has stabilized one of his roster’s most exposed weak points.
Last season, Toronto started a backup on 18 occasions. Only seven times did a Leafs goalie other than Andersen register a win.
Despite making just six appearances in a Leafs uniform in 2019-20, nine fewer than now-third-stringer Michael Hutchinson, Campbell secured seven of Toronto’s 16 total points by a backup.
“Soupy showed multiple times that he can go in there regardless (of time off) and play an amazing game,” Mitch Marner said. “He’s been awesome every time he’s stepped on the ice and played in that net. We have faith in either goalie.”
Which is why Keefe hasn’t been shy about mixing in starts for Campbell early and has been upfront about the franchise’s plan to not restrict its No. 2 to only back-to-back action.
“My impressions of him are not any different than what they were when he was with us last season. He’s got a great, positive attitude. He works every single day. He’s happy to be at the rink, pushes himself and pushes his teammates to be at their best in practice. And he gives you confidence that he’s always ready when he’s called upon,” Keefe said.
“Really, that’s been the message — just to stay ready and take advantage of every rep he gets.”
Asked about the club’s planned workload split for Andersen and Campbell, neither goalie will put a number on it. Keefe maintains they’ll take deployment one day at a time. But we’d be naive to believe that an organization that has already mapped out every practice through May doesn’t at least have a working outline for goalie use.
Barring injury, let’s place the over/under on Campbell starts at 17 in this 56-game slate.
The 29-year-old used his prolonged off-season to expand his flexibility and ramp up his conditioning. A Michigan native, Campbell hung around Toronto to work with the team’s strength staff and tidy up some finer points of his craft with goalie coach Steve Briere. Of course, he’s thankful for the opportunity.
“I wanted to turn weaknesses into strengths, and I think I’ve done that,” Campbell said. “I’m just feeling great. And whenever my name’s called, I’ll be ready to go.
“Last year we had a really talented team. This year, it’s arguably even more talented — which is crazy to believe.”
Not so crazy when you consider the pleasing upgrade at the backup goaltending position.