MORRISSEY: Valiant effort despite broken leg by Bruins’ Campbell typifies sport
June 18, 2013 8:56PM
Updated: July 20, 2013 6:50AM
BOSTON — It’s a display of fierce willpower that will come to symbolize hockey.
It is 47 seconds of pain and determination, of fearlessness and sacrifice, with a little bit of lunacy thrown in. No, a lot of lunacy. It’s one of the biggest tough-guy moments in a sport filled with them.
This is June 5, the second period of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final, and the Bruins’ Gregory Campbell is up on one knee and trying to gather himself. He has just slid feet-first to block a powerful grunt of a slap shot with his right leg, which, unbeknownst to him at the moment, is broken.
And now he is ordering himself to get up as Pittsburgh’s power play continues cruelly around him. Nine seconds after the puck hits him, he finally rises to his feet, does a tight, awkward circle like a beginning skater and … what does he do? Does he stagger to the Bruins’ bench to seek immediate medical attention for his throbbing leg? No, he does not.
He commences to help on the penalty kill. The crazy man is actually staying on the ice! He sweeps his stick, hoping to get a piece of the puck. He is limping as he skates, an awkward, ungainly movement, but he keeps at it anyway. He bends over to pick up the glove he dropped when he blocked Evgeni Malkin’s bomb of a shot.
Now he stands up taller to make himself bigger and perhaps knock down another shot. This guy is insane. Stay down, Rocky!
It’s a pitiful, uplifting sight all in one. He looks like a deer that has been wounded in a collision with a car, but with one very big difference: Deer try to get to the side of the road; Campbell tries to play some more in traffic. If he doesn’t keep playing, he believes, the Penguins might score with what effectively will be a 5-on-3 advantage as he makes his way slowly to the Bruins’ bench.
Finally, mercifully, with the power play extinguished, he skates hunched over to the bench and gets a standing ovation from the TD Garden crowd.
He played for 47 seconds with a broken right fibula. Forty-seven seconds that speak forcefully and eloquently for a sport.
Now here he is Tuesday, sitting on a raised platform at the same arena, his crutches by his side. He had surgery nine days ago and has been a spectator for the Stanley Cup Final between his Bruins and the Blackhawks.
He’s striving to explain himself and hockey.
“It might sound naïve of me, but I was just trying to do whatever I could to kill the penalty, help out,’’ he says in his first comments since the injury. “At that point, I really wasn’t thinking much.
“There are a lot of players now that are playing not 100 percent, and there’s a lot of guys that play through pain. I don’t see myself any different than anybody else in this league. There’s a lot of tough guys.’’
In that situation, he insists, a player doesn’t have time to think about anything other than killing the penalty. But that’s not true. A player has time to think: I need help. Immediately.
“I’ve always felt like if you could get up, you should get up,’’ he says. “I tried. I got up. I tried to get in the lane and prevent passes. Obviously I wasn’t very effective at that, but at least I tried to not be a liability as best I could.’’
We’ve come to expect toughness and modesty from hockey players, but it’s nice to be reminded in a big way. Campbell has been painted as the embodiment of courage, but we have to be careful here. Let’s remember that, not so long ago, two bombs went off during the Boston Marathon, and plenty of people did extraordinarily brave things. This isn’t that. This is just hockey.
“I’m not going to put myself in front of anybody else and say I’m the picture of the Bruins,’’ Campbell says. “This Original Six organization goes back a long way. It kind of represents the city, a blue-collar, hard-working city with honest people.
“When I got traded to Boston [from Florida in 2010], I thought it was tailor-made to my game the way this team exemplifies the heart and soul of what a hockey player should be made of. I was proud to come to this team and play hard for this team every night.
“There’s 18 other guys in that room that would do the same thing.’’
Perhaps, but we know one thing for sure: Only he did.