Friday 23 December 2011

Jack Campbell Gets Them Out of Their Seats

Here at Hockey Historysis, we've already talked about 80s greats Tom Paton, James Stewart and Allan Cameron. These three were certainly big men in the first decade of organized hockey, but they were not the only eminent hockeyists of their time. The Montreal Victorias had a star cover-point of their own, by the name of Jack Campbell. He's the subject of today's post.

I'd like to post a picture of Campbell, but I haven't been able to find one. Since the Winged Wheelers managed most of the glory in this era, most of the images are of the Montreal AAA club. We'll have to suffice with my approximation of the sweater Campbell wore for the Vics. Note that the more familiar script 'V', as seen in the background image of this blog, did not come into use after Campbell retired in 1891.

Campbell and Allan Cameron were the preeminent stars of the game, at least so far as the fans were concerned. The cover-point position was well-suited for team captains, and also for players who excelled both offensively and defensively. Campbell was not as effective at stopping the opposition as Cameron, but had a clear advantage in terms of scoring goals.

In the 1888 Amateur Hockey Association of Canada season, which was the first time the league tried a series system (ie, every team plays every other team a certain number of times) rather than a challenge system, Jack Campbell had his most impressive performance. In his team's seven games, he scored eight goals, which tied him with two forwards for the highest total in the circuit. The other seven defensive players in the AHAC (which had four clubs at the time) scored a total of two goals (one by a point and one by a cover) in 45 games. He was clearly playing the position differently than other players at the time, and of all the puck-chasers to have the title "first rushing defenceman" bestowed upon them, I'd say Campbell has the strongest claim to the honour.

His rushing skills were legendary:
Campbell got it, and made a brilliant run, passing through the opposing forces and taking the puck to the lower end of the rink. (Montreal Gazette, 4 Feb 1888)
One of those grand runs for which Campbell was famous was spoiled by a hard check from Hodgson. (Montreal Gazette, 28 Feb 1888)
Just before half time was called, Campbell got the puck behind his own goal and piloted it right down the rink through his opponents, and wound up his splendid run by sending the puck past the watchful eye of goal-keeper Paton amid prolonged cheering. (Montreal Herald, 6 Mar 1890)
The spectators were very often raised to a high pitch of enthusiasm through the dashing play of Campbell, who certainly played a magnificent game. (Montreal Herald, 20 Feb 1890)
He wasn't afraid to use his body:
A heavy check from Campbell and there was a scrimmage. (Montreal Gazette, 28 Feb 1888)
And he wasn't too shabby on the defensive end either:
The M.A.A.A. at this point had the best of the play for a short time, but owing to the magnificent play of Campbell they were kept at bay. (Montreal Gazette, 4 Feb 1888)
Campbell was an electrifying player, and a fan favourite. But it's easy to overstate his greatness, due to the attention his flashy play drew. He had a very short peak as a player, having only two seasons when he was really at the top of the game (1887-88) and two more seasons of pretty effective play (1889-90). Moreover, while his rushes were certain pleasing to those in the grandstands, they were not necessarily the most effective play: 
Campbell ran it nearly the entire length of the rink, but it went for nothing. (Montreal Gazette, 4 Feb 1888)
Campbell, who throughout played the best individual game, had a run the entire length of the rink, but it went for nothing... (Montreal Herald, 20 Feb 1890)
Campbell took charge of it and piloted it through several of his opponents, but his shot was wide. (Montreal Herald 18 Jan 1890)
Campbell's defensive game was seemingly more raw that Cameron's as well: 
Ashe got it and sent it back to Campbell, who, seemingly, did not expect it and before he realized where he was Hodgson swooped down upon it and with a splendid run wound up by scoring the first game for his side, thus equalizing matters amid wild excitement. (Montreal Gazette, 4 Feb 1888)
I'm not trying to downplay his greatness, but it's a rare player whose game does not have flaws. Campbell was the best rusher of his generation, but perhaps he indulged in it too much, to the detriment of his team's defensive efforts. To compare him to a modern player, he was probably like Paul Coffey at his peak, while the more dependable Cameron was, maybe, Doug Harvey, more positional and better defensively, and still contributing to offence by setting up his forwards rather than going for the goal himself.

Both were great players, of course, and deserve to be remembered today. Jack Campbell: a player who really got the fans out of their seats.


  1. James David Campbell was more like Bobby Orr...the greatest player of his generation. Hockey's first superstar...he belongs in the Hockey Hall Of Fame! Two players were covering him in most games. At 6' 1" he dominated in hockey as well as in football with the Montreal Britannias.

    Doug Harvey was also a rusher. The Serge Savard "spinorama" move was a Harvey move that Savard imitated!

    Campbell brought fans to the Victoria Rink to watch his exploits!

    1. 100 percent right in what you said! He was hockey's first superstar...unless you count Gamble Geddes. Anyways both should be in the Hockey Hall Of Fame!


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