Max Campbell knew that he had always loved hockey. Wondering just how far he might go, however – well, that’s a much more recent phenomenon.
The speedy 15 year-old forward recalls playing recreational hockey with his older brother Jack, perhaps with the Long Lake Thunder, and most certainly at a time when even considering extending his career beyond the minor hockey ranks was completely foreign to him.
“I don’t think I was anything special; I don’t think I stood out that much,” suggested Campbell, pondering the notion of any kind of natural athletic kinship to the Canadian winter pastime.
Working early on with the likes of Barry McCrory and his weekend hockey school and much more recently with Rob Dmytruk and the crew at Chiseled Hockey, the grade 10 student at St Benedict CSS would begin to forge an identity on the ice, one that was linked closely to the skill most will concede is now at the very heart of the game itself.
“I think I was always a decent skater, but being out on the ice a lot, training simple edge work drills, that really helped me,” said Campbell. “I like to use my speed to burn around the D – and I think I’m a pretty smart player. I can make good passes and smart plays. When I was younger, I couldn’t really do those things that much.”
If the first 18 months of the pandemic essentially put most everything on hold for the young hockey prospects in and around the age of Max Campbell, the period that would see the gradual easing of the Covid-19 restrictions really opened the eyes of the ultra polite young man who is now playing a leading role with the Sudbury U16 AAA Nickel Capitals.
“I had a little bit of a breakout year last year, where I really started to pick it up and show my skill set,” he said. “Near the end of last year and into this year, I realized that I might have a chance of doing something, so I really have to work for it.”
That said, Campbell is equally aware that absolutely nothing is guaranteed at this point. All he can do, truthfully, is put his head down and put in the work, looking to find a way to still impact the game in a positive way, contributing to the success of his team while standing (currently) 5’8” in height – certainly not amongst the tallest members of his squad.
“Going into grade seven, I was still under five feet – I was really small,” Campbell said with a smile. “Obviously body checking (introduced at U14) has a big effect; I had to switch things up. Against a bigger guy, I need to know not to go as fast as I can right into him because he is probably going to nail me.”
“I have to work around that and use my speed more.”
Equally as important, however, especially as a centreman more often than not, are the defensive responsibilities that come part and parcel of the position. “I think I am good at picking up the opposing centreman,” he said. “I try and make sure that he’s not one of those guys just wandering around.”
“I need to stay on him – and staying on the defensive side of the puck is also huge.”
There are few, if any, of the young lads playing U16 AAA hockey in Ontario that are immune to the pressure of the OHL Entry Draft – regardless of whether they believe their chances of being selected are outstanding or remote. Still, Campbell tries to deal with it, as best that he can.
“When I am on the ice, I just play my game, don’t worry about everybody that is watching,” he said. “That’s how I am going to have the most success.”
Well, that and playing to his strengths, those assets that see him leading the league with nine goals and eleven assists through the opening 11 games of the Great North U18 AAA Hockey League season.
“As a smaller guy, I have to show that I will get into the dirty areas,” said Campbell. “I find that I get noticed with my skating, quite a bit, and my smarts.”
And that definitely wasn’t always the case.