Hawks happy to have Campbell back

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:07 PM ET

CHICAGO — For all his detractors, the only booing Brian Campbell has heard lately came in jest from his teammates.

When the Chicago Blackhawks wind up their morning skate, they gather around head coach Joel Qunneville for words. Last one to join the crew must skate a lap around the rink, and Campbell had the dubious honour a few days ago.

His effort, or lack thereof, drew the catcalls from his teammates.

“They didn’t like I didn’t do a full lap,” said Campbell, who was forced to go again. “I got blocked by one of our players and couldn’t get there quicker. That was my stupidity, not being prepared.”

Not long ago, Campbell was the victim for plenty of derision, but from NHL followers.

That’s the price you pay for signing a massive contract — such as the eight-year, US$56.8 million deal he inked to join the Blackhawks prior to the 2008-09 season — but don’t suddenly become a big scorer.

It sounds funny, but the five weeks he spent on the sidelines with a broken collar bone and fractured ribs after being hit in the end boards by Washington’s Alex Ovechkin has actually made fans and the local media appreciate what the Hawks have in Campbell.

After all, a top-four defenceman who skates 23 minutes per game is hard to be without.

“I noticed he was gone,” said Duncan Keith, who had more responsibilities, especially moving the puck up the ice, while Campbell was injured. “He can help get us momentum with his speed and bringing the puck up the ice.”

Amazing how dollar bills can change perception.

Campbell’s first season in Chicago — seven goals and 52 points — was hardly a failure. But when your salary is among the most for any blueliner, expectations raise exponentially.

Campbell admitted being affected, not only by the expectations of those around him but of his own.

“You can get caught up in trying to impress. Make everybody like you,” Campbell said. “I don’t think last year was a bad year, but it was challenging trying to deal with it. But I put it behind me and started doing what I’ve been doing for 10 years prior. Just having fun and playing hockey.

“It’s nice to win some people over. As much as you try to leave that out of the picture, it’s there.”

Curiously, Campbell went into Sunday night’s Game 5 against the Vancouver Canucks without any points in seven playoff games, but nobody was noticing.

“He came in at the right time in the Nashville series,” Quenneville said. “It looked like we were having a lot of trouble in our own end, spending too much time in there, and I think he gives us cleaner exits, more puck possession, more threats off the rush, more involvement in the offensive zone cycles.

“It seems like his offence from the back end has really helped our puck possession game.”

Campbell, who collected seven goals and 38 points in 68 regular-season games, missed the first three games against Nashville while still recovering.

The Blackhawks had won six of seven games heading into Sunday night’s affair.

Campbell can’t take credit for that run but has been a big part of the success paired mainly with Niklas Hjalmarsson.

“When you sign a big deal like that, there’s going to be a lot of pressure and a lot of people expecting you do to big things,” Keith said. “Brian brings a lot to our team, and I think people expect so much more because of what he makes.

“It showed when he wasn’t in our lineup, what he brings. It shows now when he’s in.”

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca


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