By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Nine summers ago, the Blackhawks and Brian Campbell were an ideal match.
A team on the cusp of Stanley Cup glory added a steady piece to its blue line and a defenseman seeking the next destination in his budding career found a rising organization. Campbell didn’t realize then how profound Chicago and the Blackhawks would be in his life.
Seated in the bowels of the United Center on Tuesday afternoon, Campbell looked toward his parents, Ed and Lorna; his wife, Lauren, whom he met in a Chicago bar; and their two daughters, Harper and Everley, both wearing their father’s No. 51 jersey.
Campbell never could’ve seen it coming when he signed that eight-year deal in 2008, but the rest of his life was waiting in Chicago. It brought him peace with retiring after 17 seasons in the NHL, because this is now home.
“When I signed here nine years ago, I knew I was entering into a great organization,” Campbell said as he wiped tears away. “But I never thought I would gain another family with the Blackhawks.
“Thank you for all believing. It means the world to me.”
The 38-year-old Campbell officially announced his retirement Tuesday, gathered with his family and his “Blackhawks family” inside the United Center. He spoke of all those who have meant the world to him, including those from the Sabres, Panthers and Sharks organizations that he also played for. But the Blackhawks have offered more than he could’ve ever imagined.
Even after just four seasons in Chicago — which spanned 2008-’11 and 2016-’17 — the relationships stood strong. The Blackhawks became a family, as he expressed over and over, because of the bonds he shared with those at all levels of the organization.
Ultimately, it was the time spent playing with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and more that will make leaving the game of hockey difficult.
“I was with my buddies,” Campbell said. “That was the best part about it.”
A year removed from signing Campbell to a one-year deal, the Blackhawks made it clear they wouldn’t be re-signing him for a new contract. General manager Stan Bowman is seeking youth for the defense after the Blackhawks appeared slow while being swept out of the first round by the Predators.
Rather than pursuing a new organization, Campbell spoke to Blackhawks president John McDonough six weeks ago about the importance of his family and his desire to stay in Chicago. A native of Strathroy-Caradoc, Canada, Campbell mulled over what to do do next and will now join the Blackhawks as a special adviser to the business and hockey operations departments.
“He’s curious, he’s friendly, he’s competitive and he’s a great person,” McDonough said. “He wants to learn and he wants to dive in.
“We’re very proud to have Brian Campbell as part of the Blackhawks organization.”
The Blackhawks and Campbell will sort through the routes he can take on the business side of hockey. McDonough pointed to 19-year NHL veteran Luc Robitaille, who currently serves as president of the Kings. Perhaps Campbell could be running an organization years down the line.
But Tuesday was about reflection for Campbell, who kept Kleenex handy while wiping away a steady flow of tears, not out of sadness because it’s over but rather how grateful he is that this all happened.
Campbell will best be remembered for his assist on the Blackhawks’ game-winning goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2010, with his dish down to Patrick Kane and the ensuing disappearing puck marking the start of a modern hockey dynasty.
Of course, Campbell will cherish much more than that.
“I’m leaving the game of hockey with great memories and a sense of accomplishment,” Campbell said. “Being from a small town in Canada, I never thought I would play 17 years in the NHL. My parents, who are with me today, always taught me the value of hard work being a good person for those people along the way. Thank you, mom and dad.”
Now, nine years later, Campbell resides in nearby Western Springs with his young family. The next chapter of his life stands ahead with great opportunity. Campbell is eager for what’s ahead, blessed by what has come from Chicago.
The Blackhawks gained more than a defenseman, and Campbell certainly found more than a free-agent destination. This is his home.
“We love this town,” Campbell said while being overcome by emotion. “We’re proud to say that this family is a Blackhawks family.”