The 2020-21 NHL season was always going to be one for the history books.
For most teams, it will be remembered for the dour circumstances that led to a 56-game season that started with no fans and for teams in Canada, it will likely end that way.
But for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Jack Campbell has been the unlikely hero for a team that was in desperate need of one just three weeks ago.
“He’s such an amazing person and he brings a lot of joy in everybody’s lives,’ Auston Matthews said of Campbell. “I just couldn’t be happier for him.”
The Maple Leafs defeated the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 on Wednesday and Campbell picked his franchise-record tenth-straight win in goal.
Campbell, not one to take any credit for himself, has proven several wins ago that he was the team’s starting goaltender going forward. Now he’s passed the likes of former Leafs goalies Felix Potvin and Jacques Plante, putting an exclamation point on the team’s immediate future between the pipes.
“We must be playing well,” Campbell said of his feat. “It’s a super special and a great honor and something I’ll be able to look back on sometime, but right now it’s just back to work that’s for sure.”
On Mar. 20, Jack Campbell made his return to the Leafs lineup after he had missed three weeks from a lingering leg injury that previously kept him out for over a month. He made 31 saves in a 2-0 win against the Calgary Flames.
Before that night, the Leafs had lost six of their last seven games and saw their once large lead in the North Division evaporate as the Edmonton Oilers found themselves level at 40 points.
The team has since rallied to win eight out of their last nine games and increased their lead in the division over second-place Edmonton to seven points.
The team rallied around Campbell and his quest to stay healthy, and Campbell has rallied his career around his teammates.
“The group had a great moment after the game to celebrate and acknowledge his achievement,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “I think it’s important to give Jack this moment here, he’s been through a lot and worked extremely hard to put himself in this position.”
One day after Campbell’s return in mid-march, Keefe held a question-and-answer session with Aeroplan members where he talked about his role in keeping the spirit of the players up.
His answer stuck with me.
“I think the spirit of the team is so important,” Keefe said. “When we’re in a draft and salary-cap system in the NHL and the parity in the league is so tight, the spirit of the team really does make a difference.”
Although Keefe’s comments weren’t necessarily directed at this season in particular, happiness has never had a greater utility in a year where there’s a lot to be unhappy about.
The season has not felt normal at all. Entering empty buildings reflects a sobering feeling of the way of the world and the Leafs were reminded of just how real things are when William Nylander was placed on the COVID-19 protocol list earlier in the day due to precautionary reasons.
“I think it important to note that Will didn’t break any protocols here and do anything outside of the rules and protocols and things like that,” Keefe said. “It’s a very unfortunate situation and we’re going to support Will through this and we’ll just wait for more information.”
In a season where it’s been difficult for players to connect with their fans, Campbell has won them over in the same way he has his teammates. He has kept them engaged with his performance and his relentless positivity.