It’s not an experience Kristen Campbell should have. She shouldn’t know what it’s like to lose a season, see everything come to an abrupt halt, be left to wonder what comes next. But it’s a situation with which she’s all too familiar.
It was nearly three years ago, following the completion of her freshman season at University of North Dakota, that the program was swiftly and suddenly shutdown. She was left without a place to play and without a proper ending to her time at UND. And late last week, Campbell found out that it was happening all over again. Amid the coronavirus outbreak, the NCAA had announced the cancellation of remaining winter and spring championships, including the women’s and men’s Frozen Four tournaments. After three years at University of Wisconsin, the unthinkable had happened and a collegiate career that began with one program ending was about to culminate with a cancelled campaign.
“You look back on everything you've been through, and I was like, 'I feel like I've been here before,’” Campbell said. “But I also feel like I knew how to deal with it.”
That’s why after an emotional hour spent in the locker room with her teammates, Campbell thought back to that time following her freshman season, what she and her teammates did in the moments that followed their discovery that the program was no more, and leaned on that experience. And that led to a suggestion. When her and her UND teammates learned of their program’s fate, they took to the ice. So, Campbell suggested she and her fellow Badgers do the same. “It's the best escape from anything that you can't control,” Campbell said.
But a simple skate turned into so much more. The seniors lined up against the freshmen, juniors and sophomores in a full-team scrimmage, with Campbell minding goal for the second-ranked Badgers one last time. Coaches took to the benches, the goal horn was in full throat and the national championship even made an appearance. The defending champions had it stationed on the bench and brought it out on the ice once the scrimmage was over. Who hoisted it?
“The seniors won in dramatic fashion,” Campbell laughed. “One of our best forwards played goalie for the other team, so I actually got to score a goal, which was pretty fun. I took the puck end-to-end, so it was kind of crazy. But I guess I can say I scored a goal in LaBahn (Arena) now…”
If it seems as though Campbell is taking this all in stride, it’s because, for the most part, she is. Again, that’s the value of experience with a disappointment of similar magnitude. But don’t take that to mean these situations are one and the same.
Different this time around is that there is no next season, no colleges calling her up to come step into their crease. Campbell does intend, however, to continue her career. She’s been in the Hockey Canada system since she was a teenager and won silver with the program at the U18s in 2014-15. She’s also kept her eye on the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association and hopes she can situated somewhere before next season. Even if it’s not through hockey, though, Campbell has confidence that each of her teammates will be able to make it through this disappointment.
“I know everyone's going to come out stronger from it, and I've been through something like this before and it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me,” Campbell said. “Even though this is a really different situation, I really don't see it as the end for any of us, whether it's girls who want to on and play professional hockey or girls that want to be done with hockey and go on to have great successful careers in life. I really think if anything, this is going to make us stronger people and closer as a team. We'll all be able to get through it together.”
At some point down the line, too, Campbell is confident the team can come together again for another sendoff, this one more proper than an empty-arena celebration in front of teammates and coaches. Hey, maybe it’ll be in another nine years when they celebrate the 10th anniversary of their 2019 national crown. Of course, some will suggest one of the greater disappointments of the cancelled season is that Campbell and Co. won’t have the opportunity to see this campaign through and return to Wisconsin for a 10-year reunion as two-time champions. But Campbell doesn’t necessarily see it that way.
“I kept hearing the seniors say, 'I just wish we had one more game.' And I think that's what it comes down to: throughout this all, every game we played, you look back on all the memories,” Campbell said. “And of course we wanted to go back-to-back and that's something that was talked about this entire season, but even though we didn't get to write the ending, we still have everything we got to write.”
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