Perseverance pays off for rookie
It would have been easy for Ryan Campbell to give up on his dream of playing in the Ontario Hockey League.
The 18-year-old centre has already faced two serious shoulder injuries — the first wiped out his 16-year-old season and the second prevented him from attending OHL camp — but he remained committed to cracking the lineup with the Niagara IceDogs.
Campbell, who was a sixth-round pick (116th overall) in the 2017 OHL Priority Selection, finally had a chance to come to camp healthy this season and give the IceDogs a chance to see him perform.
“My first goal all summer was just to be healthy and when I came into camp and was able to play it felt really good,” the native of Plattsville (near Cambridge) said.
Campbell, a natural centre who collected 16 points with the Kitchener Dutchmen of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League last season, was so impressive in camp he was signed to a deal.
“He’s a guy who’s been very focused on trying to make this team,” IceDogs coach Billy Burke said. “Since he was drafted — he was highly touted at the start of his draft year — he battled injuries and it’s been discouraging for him. Now he’s healthy and he’s able to show us what we thought he was.”
Burke said Campbell’s attention to detail stood out.
“He was very consistent. Even in training camp sometimes you have to look and see if a guy’s game will translate. Just because someone scores the most goals in the inter-squad games doesn’t mean he will be able to be a scorer.
“He has a good hockey IQ and he did a lot of little things that would translate to help him be a regular on our team.”
Campbell chalked up his hockey smarts to his love of the game.
“I’ve always been kind of a nerd when it comes to hockey,” he said. “At home if I’m bored I’ll just go on the NHL app and watch any game, so that maybe contributed to it, and maybe it’s kind of instinctive.”
Campbell said all the extra time he put in working out finally paid off.
“I trained every single day, five days a week alone in the gym. It sucked,” he said.
Campbell, who figures to start the season as a bottom-six forward, played in the IceDogs two exhibition games last week.
“It was eye-opening,” he said. “The biggest thing is just speed. It’s going to be quite a jump.
“In that league (GOJHL), I was super skilled but for this league there are guys who are more skilled than me, obviously. It’s a good friggin’ league.”
Burke likened Campbell to over-age forward Bradey Johnson.
“It will take some time to get accustomed to the speed but he’s very smart and that goes in his favour. He’s a smart player who understands defensive positioning and can pick things up quickly and that’s what he’s been so impressive.
“This year I look at him as a guy you can trust out there. He’s going to make the smart play and be hard to play against. He may not put up a ton of points but that’s not necessarily what we’re looking for this year.”
The IceDogs don’t play again until Thursday, Sept. 12 when the visit the Barrie Colts to continue the exhibition season. They host the Peterborough Petes Friday, Sept. 13 at the Fleming Centre in Beamsville and then conclude pre-season Saturday, Sept. 14 versus Peterborough in Millbrook.
The IceDogs open the regular season at home Thursday, Sept. 19 versus the Sudbury Wolves.
Ice cubes: Akil Thomas (Los Angeles), Jacob Paquette (Columbus) and Phil Tomasino (Nashville) all left Wednesday for NHL camps.
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