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Persevering through adversity

Despite the unexpected challenges she experienced in her collegiate career, Kristen Campbell triumphed and achieved her goal of making Canada’s National Women’s Team

Shannon Coulter
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August 22, 2021
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The road to Canada’s National Women’s Team for Kristen Campbell may have included a few unexpected speedbumps along the way, but the goaltender believes everything happens for a reason.

The 23-year-old leans on that mindset whenever she faces adversity, and it was needed more than ever in the days following her redshirt freshman season at the University of North Dakota. On March 29, 2017, the university announced it was cutting women’s hockey from its athletics department due to budgetary reasons.

“It was a very challenging time,” Campbell says. “Honestly, it kind of blew me out of the water. I was very shocked, along with my other teammates.”

The move was a bombshell in the NCAA. The abrupt cancellation left the collegiate careers of 19 junior, sophomore and freshman players—not to mention any committed incoming players—in jeopardy.

“I was hurting for my teammates and just hoping that everyone would get a chance to play and live out their Division I dreams,” she says.

Not only was it a heartbreaking time, but it was also a little chaotic. As the news spread around the league, several schools began reaching out to the University of North Dakota coaches to see if players would be interested in transferring.

“I remember heading down to the coach’s office and seeing everyone’s name up on this whiteboard with schools next to their names,” Campbell recalls. “It was honestly pretty overwhelming, because you never really thought of yourself playing anywhere else once you’d already made your decision.”

For Campbell, it was Jackie Crum who reached out to her. Crum had previously coached Campbell as a member of Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team and was an assistant coach at the University of Wisconsin.

“As soon as I started talking with her, I just knew that it was going to be a perfect fit.”

The timing was perfect, too. The Badgers’ starting goaltender, Campbell’s current Team Canada teammate Ann-Renée Desbiens, was graduating, leaving a spot for Campbell to fill. The transition to Wisconsin is one of Campbell’s fondest memories in her collegiate career because of the actions of her teammates.

“Everyone just welcomed me in with open arms and they made me feel like I was part of the team,” she says. “It could have been a really difficult transition for me, but I was able to step in and have success right away because of how welcomed I felt and how my teammates treated me.”

Campbell had immediate success at Wisconsin; she led the Badgers to the Frozen Four in her first season, was named WCHA Goaltender of the Year and was a top-10 finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award, given to NCAA’s top women’s hockey player.

She also played her way onto the WCHA First All-Star Team and was honoured as a Second-Team All-American.

“She’s a real hard worker,” says Brad Kirkwood, the goaltending consultant for Canada’s National Women’s Team. “Whether it be on the men’s or women’s side, she’s one of the hardest working goaltenders that I’ve had the pleasure of working with.”

Unsatisfied with their double-overtime loss in the national semifinals, Campbell made a promise to her roommate that night, declaring the Badgers would be back next year and would take it all. Sure enough, she led Wisconsin to the 2019 NCAA championship, posting a 27-save shutout of Minnesota in the national final.

“To be a part of that was super special,” she says. “Obviously, I had experienced a really low point with the program shut down at North Dakota and then reaching the pinnacle of the top of college hockey was like the high. [It was] definitely a very emotional win.”

Heading into her senior year in 2019-20, Campbell and her teammates were looking forward to defending their championship until their season was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. For the netminder, it was like déjà vu, but she leaned on that experience in the face of adversity again.

“When the program got shut down in North Dakota, we went out and skated right away as a team. And that’s kind of what I thought of in that moment,” she explains. “I was like, ‘Hey guys, we should go skate.’”

The seniors decided to face off against the rest of the team in a scrimmage. Her coaches hopped on to the bench and the horn sounded with every goal. Not only did Campbell go end-to-end to score a goal, but her parents—who were travelling from Manitoba to see her play in what would have been the NCAA quarterfinals that weekend—were able to catch part of the scrimmage and see her in a Badgers uniform one last time.

“It was a memory I’ll always remember because that was our last time together as a team. And that’s kind of how we went out as seniors. We actually did our lap because we never got to do our lap in LaBahn [Arena] so we did, and we were waving and pretending like there was fans and just making the most of a situation that was out of our control.”

During the pandemic, Campbell continuously adapted her training routine to maximize what she could do at home. She incorporated yoga and strength training, and used a slide board for off-ice training. She also joined goaltenders around the world for competitive concentration games on Zoom.

“She put in a lot of work in this off-season and had herself ready at the camps to perform,” Kirkwood says. “She performed really well and earned a spot on the team.”

The 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship is Campbell’s first tournament as a member of Canada’s National Women’s Team, and she’s eager to be teammates with players she has looked up to during her career.

“It’s pretty surreal,” she says, “I knew it would be a challenging road, but I’m really excited to continue this journey and be a part of this program moving forward.”

She may have faced adversity along the way, but everything Campbell has experienced has led her to this moment and achieving her goal.

“She shows what I would describe as a pro-level of resiliency,” Kirkwood says. “The exciting thing for me as a coach is I don’t think she’s reached her ceiling yet. I think she’s young and there’s a lot of room for growth in her game still.”

“It feels good to make it to this point,” she says. “Ever since I was little, I’ve dreamed of winning gold medals with this team. I just feel like although I’ve come really far, there’s a lot more work to do and I’m just really excited to get to work with this group.”

For more information:

Dominick Saillant
Director, Communications
Hockey Canada
514-895-9706
[email protected]

 

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada
403-284-6484
[email protected]

 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada
Office: 403-777-4567
Mobile: 905-906-5327
[email protected]

 

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