For most of the players that make their way to the roster of a NHL team, the route taken begins with the yearly renewal of talent known as the NHL Entry Draft. Each year, 17- and 18-year-old hockey players from around the world gather in a NHL city in the hopes of being selected by the gathering of NHL GMs and scouts.
For those draft-eligible players not fortunate enough to have their names called, the road to the NHL suddenly seems to develop many bumps, potholes and steep hills which can impede a player’s progress to their ultimate goal. But even players that aren’t drafted can sometimes be given a second opportunity to impress a team if that player receives an invitation to a NHL training camp. Such is the case with Chris Campoli, a defenseman for the OHL’s Erie Otters who was invited to the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Prospects Camp and 2002 training camp.
Chris and his Erie teammates had a season to remember in 2001-02, with the team winning the OHL championship in dramatic fashion with an overtime goal before moving on to the CHL’s Memorial Cup tournament. The added exposure of going deep into the playoffs gave Campoli a chance to be noticed by NHL scouts, with the Blue Jackets liking some of what they saw.
Campoli probably qualifies as more of an offensive defenseman, as his 33 points (8G, 25A) in 45 02-03 contests would attest. With the departure of some of the veterans from last year’s team, the Mississauga, ON native also has taken on a role as one of the team leaders for a squad that is a little more green than the one that fell just short of a Memorial Cup championship. At 18 years of age, Chris is still very much a NHL prospect, so a strong finish to his 02-03 season could at the very least garner him some more attention from the Columbus organization.
Hockey’s Future caught up with the young rearguard before a recent game, with the transcript of that conversation being presented below.
HF: Your first draft year was in 2002, but you were passed over. You were invited to the Columbus Blue Jackets’ training camp, though- what were some of your impressions of your first NHL training camp?
CC: It was awesome! It was a great experience, playing with so many great hockey players. Columbus isn’t the best NHL team, but, at the same time, guys like Geoff Sanderson, Rotislav Klesla, those kind of guys, you still get to meet. It was a heck of an experience for me, and my development in hockey, that’s for sure.
HF: Did Columbus indicate to you whether they might call your name in the next draft?
CC: No, they just indicated they’d be watching me. They were pretty happy with my camp; things went well, so hopefully I can have a good year and get drafted. I’m not overly concerned about it, though, I just want to develop as a hockey player, and hopefully one day make it (to the NHL).
HF: Obviously, last season was a great year for the team, but this season has been a little bit different. Do you feel like the team is coming around a bit lately?
CC: Yeah, I think so. We’re a fairly confident group. We’ve got six veteran blueliners and an overage goalie, so we’re not going to panic. We’re confident, like I said, so hopefully we can make another run during the second half of the season.
HF: Just to reminisce a bit about last year, what were some of the better moments for you, personally?
CC: There was no better moment than when Sean Courtney scored in overtime to win the OHL championship. That’s something I’ll never forget, since it’s the best moment I’ve ever experienced in hockey. To get to that point, with that group of guys- we were such a close team – it was just a great experience, and something I’ll never forget.
HF: What sort of things do you need to work on to get to the pro game?
CC: I think I need to be more physical, to play with more of an edge. At times I kind of sit back, but if I can do that, use my strength, skating, and put up a few more points, hopefully I’ll be able to make the next step one day.
HF: What’s your role on this team? Are you one of the team leaders?
CC: I think I’m one of the leaders in the dressing room, I guess. It’s my third year here, now, I know the system, and I’ve taken over a bigger role this year with other guys being out of the lineup. Guys like Cory Pecker and Brad Boyes are gone, so the weight kind of goes onto the defensemen’s shoulders, with our being a veteran blueline and all. So, yeah, I guess you could say I’m a team leader.
HF: I noticed on the Otters web site recently that you visited a local hospital to do some charity work. Is that something that is important to you?
CC: Yeah, it’s very important. Not every kid has been dealt a great hand. We’re pretty lucky, if you think about it, so I think it is important to give back to the community, and to put a smile on a kid’s face. If you can do that, maybe you’ve made a difference.
HF: I noticed that you’ve played for some of Canada’s national teams in the past. How was that experience of playing for your country?
CC: Well, when I played on the under-18 team, we played in the Czech Republic. We won the gold medal, which was good, but it wasn’t as good an experience as it could have been. I only played in two games because I was diagnosed with mono, actually, so I wasn’t allowed to play because I was pretty sick. But it was something I’ll never forget; it was my first time over in Europe. To be around guys from the WHL and QMJHL was good- it was just a great experience all around.
HF: It says in your profile that Bryan Berard is a favorite player of yours. What about him do you like? Do you pattern your game after his style of play?
CC: I’d like to pattern my game after him. He’s a great defenseman- he can skate, he’s an offensive player, which is what I like most about him. I think those are two strengths I definitely need to use if I’m ever going to jump to the next level. He’s a guy I can model myself after and hopefully one day get to play against.
HF: Are there any other players that you admired when you were growing up?
CC: I like Ray Bourque, as well. He’s another steady defenseman, not a big guy- I’m not a big guy, I’m only 6’ tall – but he was steady, he had a great shot, and what I admired about him most was his decision-making, which was unbelievable most of the time.
HF: You grew up in Mississauga, and were a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. Were there any other Leafs besides Berard that you admired?
CC: I like Darcy Tucker; I like the way he mixes it up. I like Shayne Corson- he and Tucker are pretty similar. Those kind of guys, with character, and who work hard, those are the kind of guys I’d like to have on my team, that’s for sure.