NCAA women's hockey: Goaltender Kristen Campbell flourishing at new home with No. 1 Wisconsin
MADISON –– Kristen Campbell had just finished a spring practice when team trainers approached her with the news that had been leaked on Twitter that she would no longer be playing college hockey for the University of North Dakota.
The school was shutting down the program, along with the men's and women's swim and dive teams, because of financial issues. There had been weeks of speculation, but it was still crushing news to Campbell and her teammates.
"It was a complete shock," said Campbell.
Picking North Dakota was a personal choice for the goaltender, the culmination of years of training as a youth and going through the recruiting process. She had put two years of sweat equity into the program, waiting first as a redshirt freshman and then biding her time on the bench as a backup. Friendships and trust had been formed with teammates and coaches.
Now it was now gone, just like that.
But it didn't take long for Campbell to connect with Wisconsin Badgers assistant coach Jackie Crum — they had been together on Team Canada in the 2015 under-18 world championship. Other schools were reaching out to Campbell, but she never even made another visit. Wisconsin's tradition, history and culture was alluring.
"I knew right away that this is where I wanted to end up," said Campbell.
As she began the process of transferring in June, she hit a few bumps. The native of Brandon, Manitoba, couldn't get a visa to be in Wisconsin for the months she wasn't in classes, so she missed the majority of the Badgers' 10-week summer orientation program. Although she did make it for one week, she missed a lot of time.
And then she had been studying nutrition and kinesiology at North Dakota, but those credits didn't all transfer "as well as I had hoped," said Campbell.
Now she's taking psychology and science communications and thinking of a new major.
Meanwhile, since Campbell hadn't played much in her first two years in college, UW coach Mark Johnson wondered what kind of shape she was in. She arrived in Madison in August and was on the ice by the middle of September with more questions than answers. At least her teammates showed her where classes were and made dinner with her.
"Everyone has just let me in as part of the family — and I couldn't be more grateful," said Campbell.
Stepping in for departed record-setting goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens, Campbell started winning, and winning impressively. She went 6-0 during a stretch of six straight ranked opponents, including a shutout against Ohio State. Campbell now leads the NCAA in save percentage (.948), goals-against average (1.00) and winning percentage (.955) while ranking second in shutouts (6).
"A lot goes out to her with her work habits and her work ethic," Johnson said. "Things like sleep habits, eating, off-ice habits, practice habits, focus. As the days went by and the weeks went by, she got more comfortable and as she got more comfortable, her confidence went up.
"And then she got opportunities early on and she just ran with it."
The Badgers are ranked No. 1 and resume play Saturday after winter break. This program is so good, nine former Badgers -- four for the United States and five for Canada -- will be playing in the Olympics next month. Wisconsin just reloads and wins and Campbell sees nothing but talent in front of her.
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"Our defensive system, how we like to play, is very tight and is very offensive, since all the girls are unbelievably skilled," said Campbell.
Her job is giving her team a chance to win. Nicknamed "Soup," she's expanded her reputation for being a very technical goalie to one who also can capitalize on her athleticism to make challenging saves. She's also very intense, tracking the puck, always set, still dialed in even when the play is not on her end.
Campbell was named Western Collegiate Hockey Association goaltender of the month for December, the third straight month she's received the honor.
#WCHA Goaltender of the Month, Powered by @GoodWoodHockey, for Dec. 2017: @Soupy_35 (@BadgerWHockey)— WCHA Women's Hockey (@WCHA_WHockey) January 3, 2018
rd-straight award, after going 4-0-0 and leading WCHA & NCAA goalies (min. 2 starts) for Ws, ShO (2), GAA (0.50) & save % (.974).#Badgers #WeAreWCHA #HockeyNeverLookedSoGood pic.twitter.com/Z6SMBJhvgd
But she's really enjoying the fact all of her former teammates found new teams, which says something about that program -- and maybe also about the hockey community in general, making sure no one was left off a team.
"They had good teams and did well," said Johnson.
Campbell already has faced several of her former teammates in games, since so many landed in the WCHA.
"It's been fun to just see them at the rink or after the game," said Campbell. "It's pretty special after what everyone went through. Being able to hug them after the game -- or going head to head against them, some of them getting little breakaways on me (laughs) -- it's just neat seeing them out there being successful too."
Personally, she's not in to holding grudges. Success really is the best revenge.
"Obviously what they did to us, it wasn't fair — and there's still unanswered questions," said Campbell. "But things in life aren't fair. The best thing to do now is put your best foot forward and make the most of a new opportunity."