TILLSONBURG, Ontario - For nearly 20 minutes, bostonbruinsTV waited patiently for Gregory Campbell to say something into the wireless microphone mounted to his hockey equipment during a late-morning skate at a rink in Waterloo. But in that entire time all we heard, besides the crunch of skates and the slap of the puck, was a focused silence.
However, after practice, when asked about the reasons so many of the Bruins make it a priority to return to their hometowns, Campbell was downright verbose.
"As much as I love Boston, I think, for me I think family is one of the most important things," he said. "I think for a lot of players [feel] it’s nice to get away from, I guess, your place of work for a while and enjoy your time with your family.
"For me, it’s my immediate and extended family who’s all from this area, and obviously my current family now with my new wife and her family’s from this area. So I think it’s just a place where I’m comfortable with being; a place that I don’t get to spend a lot of time, being in Boston eight to ten months of the year and a place where I get to come home and see my friends and people that I don’t get to see a lot and kind of enjoy a different side of life.
"As I said, as much as I love Boston and I love the people there and the city itself, this is my home," added Campbell of Ontario. "This is where I’ll settle when I’m done playing and it’s just a comfortable place for me to relax, but at the same time focus on what I have to do for the upcoming season."
But it's not that difficult for Campbell, who wears a trademark "game face" much of the time when he is in New England, to remain focused on hockey and the forward admitted that at times taking a step back from the rink has been difficult.
As such, the rolling green hills and fields of his native Tillsonburg or the more laid-back environment in the Kitchener/Waterloo area seem to create a respite that allows Campbell to smile a little easier.
"Yeah, I think it’s something that I’ve struggled with in my career," said Campbell. "It is finding that balance between being focused and being intense, but also letting myself enjoy myself ultimately and relax.
"You know, once the season starts it’s such a grind and there’s no telling how long the season’s going to go. Obviously two years ago we played for 10 months over 100 games and that takes a toll on you, and not only for one year but constantly if you want to be a player that enjoys a long successful career.
"I think you have to be able to step away to give yourself not only your body, but your mind, a break."
However, winning the Stanley Cup helped Campbell learn how to fine tune his focus.
"I think that with winning put things in perspective as far as the time we got off last year," said Campbell. "You know, basically we had two months off before we had to start the new season, and it kind of forced me to take a step back this year and use the time.
"Unfortunately, we were out a little too early, but it forced me to step back and use the time in a productive way – meaning letting myself rest, letting my body letting my mind relax and recharge and be ready to go at it again this year."
As Campbell traveled along Ontario's roads with his dog Wally, it was easy to see why he makes it a priority to take the foot off the gas. But as soon as talk turned to the upcoming season, the game face returned and so did Soup's slow boil.
However, Gregory quickly recognized the switch and smiled widely.
"I know that’s the knock on me a lot especially in the dressing room that I 'game face' a lot and, you know, I’m too serious," said Campbell. "So for me to change that it’s been a struggle, but I think to be successful you have to allow yourself to adapt and change, you know, you can’t be stuck in your ways because the game is always changing.
"I’m changing. I’m getting older and I have to allow myself more of a break sometimes.
"But, you know, for the time being, you know, the summer time…so I have found different ways to unwind and let loose a little bit."
Gregory Campbell with Wally at his family home in Tillsonburg.
When you walk into the barn at Campbell's parents' home, the musk aroma and crafted wooden frame immediately take you back to a time when a young Gregory might spend hours shooting pucks into its sides. This is the place where No. 11 worked out growing up - he wasn't necessarily going to the gym all the time, so he did chin-ups on the wood beams.
For the hockey faithful, a slew of Youngblood references come to mind... And though Campbell was not the cornerstone of a movie, he said there were actually times when his Dad would turn on the Rocky soundtrack and he would have his own Rocky Balboa moment after a tough workout.
The training was laced with dreams of one day making it to the NHL - and like every other hockey player in his youth, a young Campbell would sometimes practice signing his name. The blackboard with those decades-old autographs now stays in his parents' barn - a foreshadowing, to say the least. And when glancing around at the memories inside the barn, Gregory had a good laugh looking at the "autographs" and remembering those "glory days."
In addition to workouts inside the barn, there was also a steep hill behind his house with a stream at the bottom, where he would usually run up and down 20 times. Longtime friend (and current New York Ranger) Steve Eminger would often join in the workouts and they would help push each other.