Confident Campbell knows the score

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:18 PM ET

BUFFALO - This isn't the first time goalies Mark Visentin and Jack Campbell have stared down at each other from opposite ends of the ice this season.

But back on Oct. 30 in St. Catharines, they weren't standing in the creases of a packed NHL rink.

They didn't have TSN cameras pointing at them and millions of people watching their every movement.

And the stakes weren't a berth in the world junior gold medal game as they will be Monday night when hockey rivals Canada and the United States meet in the world junior semifinal at HSBC Arena.

"We have a special opportunity to give ourselves a chance to play for gold on U.S. ice," the 18-year-old Campbell said.

The American goalie, playing right now without any need of a confidence boost, has one to reflect on anyway. When the assigned masked men met the day before Halloween at cramped old Jack Gatecliff Arena in St. Catharines for an Ontario Hockey League regular-season game, Campbell came out on top in a shootout.

It was a timely victory for the Dallas Stars first-rounder, who struggled in his first month with the Windsor Spitfires. Taking down Visentin's Niagara IceDogs was just what the doctor ordered.

"It wasn't just that game, it was a big weekend for me," the 6-foot-3 puckstopper said. "The first seven OHL games this year weren't good. I went from Dallas (training camp) to a different level and I never had to do that in my career before."

He needed an adjustment. He started seeing it clearly in the game against Visentin.

And who was it bagging the only goal to decide that Campbell-Visentin shootout showdown?

"Ryan Ellis," Campbell said with a smile.

The Spitfires and Canadian captain. His billet mate in Windsor. It's his only OHL shootout goal this season.

Ellis also scored on an attempt against Russian goalie Igor Bobkov in the Canadian Hockey League Super Series stop in Sudbury in November. But he missed in his chance against big Swedish goalie Robin Lehner on Friday -- one of the reasons Canada and the U.S. will cross paths before the championship game.

Campbell has made it clear here he doesn't needle Ellis about winning world junior gold last year.

The reality is unlike that creative TSN TV bit where they razz each other in a staged battle of patriotism at home.

"We take it very seriously," Campbell said. "I don't joke around with him about it. There is pressure on both our teams to do well and I understand what the gold medal means to him and Canada."

He should. Campbell grew up in Port Huron, Mich., on a border town. He plays his trade in Windsor, a bridge and tunnel away from Detroit.

And now he's here in Buffalo, another border city experiencing an influx of Canadians who have been flocking to this tournament this week.

But Campbell wasn't inspired to play in net because the of the NHLers he saw on TV like Chris Osgood in Detroit or American Ryan Miller in Buffalo.

He strapped on the pads because of his cousin Marshall Campbell.

"He played goalie in high school and I looked up to him," he said. "He went on to play (linebacker) at Michigan State for the Spartans."

By then, the young Campbell was hooked. He's been proving himself here to be the top junior goaltender in the world.

And all he has to do to cement that reputation is beat Visentin -- and Ellis -- again.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

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