WILMINGTON (CBS) – As I’ve watched Bruins center Gregory Campbell try to get back to the player he was in prior to breaking his leg last June, I’ve often wondered if one of the Bruins’ hardest workers was actually working too hard.
It wasn’t just the goose egg in his goals and assists columns (he finally got his first point in the matinee win Monday against Tampa Bay) that made it seem like maybe Campbell was overdoing it. It was the frustration in his face. It was all the lost shifts by his line. And it was the extra extra time he had been spending on the ice. Even before the injury, Campbell was perennially the last player – not just veteran, but player – off the ice after practice. He pretty much never skipped an optional practice or morning skate. Now here he was coming back from major surgery and staying on the ice after practices as though he thought the game was going to start up any minute.
The dressing room opens five to 10 minutes after the first players get off the ice. The media is allowed 20 minutes in the room. This season more than ever, Campbell would still be on the ice while media types made their way to coach Claude Julien’s press conference. I was starting to wonder if Campbell could possibly have enough gas left in the tank for games after working so hard in skating sessions that didn’t dangle two points in the standings as a reward.
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Luckily, Campbell says, he’s been well aware of his limits, and that although it looks like he’s ready most days to skate until the authorities are called in to haul him home, he has learned how to pull back on the reins a bit. But it hasn’t been easy with the results – be they points or just victorious shifts by him and linemates Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton – haven’t consistently been there.
“I feel like it’s in my nature. And going back throughout my career, I’ve always found that I’ve worked hard to get the results. So I resort to that,” Campbell told me after practice Wednesday. “But I realize as I’ve gotten older that sometimes it is good to step back and do something else, or work on my mind instead of my body or whatever.”
So this week started perfectly. The Bruins won and Campbell got an assist and, more importantly, the Merlot Line was in vintage form. The Bruins’ three rugged forward won shifts, won battles and turned the tide on their recent slump that’s seen them chasing the puck and playing in their own end way more than anyone is used to.
Fresh off the victory, Campbell used the Bruins’ day off Tuesday to really take a break. Scattered among his various off-ice activities was a visit to a local Boys and Girls Club. It was a chance to give back to the community and take his mind off of hockey. He admits that knowing the Bruins would have a high-paced Wednesday practice helped him accept that Tuesday would be a less-taxing day. But he also knows that the Bruins have a back-to-back situation Thursday and Friday, and then next week have a back-to-back that turns into three games in four night and four games in six nights.
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Bruins coach Claude Julien said he was never concerned Campbell was working himself into sawdust. Julien likes his “creatures of habit” to stay in whatever routine they think will make them successful. Campbell said that Julien and his assistants have been great with their patience, knowing he’s coming back from such a devastating injury, but also send the message that his body needs recovery time in addition to hard work in order for him to be himself for the stretch run. They’re not hiding his skates or locking the weight room, but he still get the gist of what’s expected of him.
“I think the irony is in the fact that sometimes the harder the work the more frustrated you get. And sometimes you just need to change up a little bit,” Campbell said. “You know when things are going well for you individually, anybody, it seems like things are just flowing and you’re not thinking too much and you’ve got a good routine going. And then in my case, when I get frustrated or when I want to see results, I tend to work even harder. And sometimes that’s not always the answer. I’ve always felt like I’ve gotten results and answers through working hard in my career, so that’s kind of what I resort to. But you know I’ve tried to find a balance where I get my work in when it’s needed and when I can.”
For some players, Campbell’s work regimen might be too much. But for someone whose baseline for work ethic is more machine than man, the level required to get back into form as fast as possible from injury just might be some superhuman amount of exertion. At least if his work crosses the threshold from help to hurt, he says he won’t be afraid to show he’s human.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
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