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The No. 1 goaltender on the top-ranked team in NCAA women's hockey will admit the start to her season had some flaws — mental errors made in the heat of the moment.
"Early on I was facing some adversity, situations that I hadn't really seen before and maybe some mistakes I normally wouldn't have made but I think that working through those mistakes really helped me," said Kristen Campbell over the phone from her home in Brandon Thursday where the University of Wisconsin puckstopper is taking a two-week Christmas break from school and a jam-packed hockey schedule.
"I was able to find where I want my game to be at. I look at that adversity as a positive thing because last year I didn't have to face much adversity early in the season and so later on, when I needed that experience, I didn't have it."
And what did those miscues look like exactly?
"I would go out to play a puck and it would take a weird bounce onto the other team's stick and I would be out of my net and they would score — early on, those kinds of things were happening," explained Campbell, recalling a stretch during the first seven games of the season where she posted a sub-par .883 save percentage. "It was a good experience to go through."
Campbell knew she had to simplify her game, even if it meant toning down her instinct to feed Wisconsin's speedy offensive attack, which has outscored its opponents 81-23 while piling up a 19-1 record in the first half of 2018-19.
But she hasn't eliminated the stretch pass from her repertoire completely.
"If there's an open player I almost always do it," said Campbell. "You have to be a little careful but I like to do it if we're on a power play and the other team's changing and you have a lot more time to get it up there."
Age: 21; Class: redshirt junior
Age: 21; Class: redshirt junior
By the numbers: Has appeared in all 20 games for the Badgers in 2018-19, recording a .932 save percentage with a 1.11 goals-against average and four shutouts... Played all 38 games and posted a 31-5-2 record in her first season with Wisconsin in 2017-18. Finished season ranked second in the NCAA with a .939 save percentage and had an NCAA-leading 1.19 goals against average and 12 shutouts.
Honours: Second-team All-American in 2017-18... Top-10 finalist for Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, awarded annually to the top player in NCAA women's hockey... WCHA scholar athlete, named to all-WCHA academic team, the all-WCHA first team all-star and WCHA goaltender of the year in 2017-18.
International: Played for Canadian under-22 development team in a three-game series against the United States last August. Campbell lost her only start, 2-1.
Quote: "Having two years of college left, my ultimate goal is to work my way to the senior team. That would be next for me -- getting a shot with the national team.
Fortunately, those small mistakes had no lasting impact on the powerful Badgers, who have been bolstered by the return of Olympians Emily Clark and Annie Pankowski, a pair of redshirt seniors, to their lineup. Clark, who hails from Saskatoon, and Pankowski, a product of Laguna Hills, Calif., took a season away from school to play for their respective national teams.
Head coach Mark Johnson has relied heavily on Campbell since she transferred to the Madison campus after the University of North Dakota suddenly shuttered its women's hockey program in a cost-cutting move early in 2017.
Campbell, who was used sparingly as a redshirt freshmen for the Fighting Hawks, played all 38 games for Wisconsin last season and has played all but portions of two games so far in 2018-19.
"I think she's in a better spot today than she was maybe a month ago just from a confidence standpoint," Johnson told the Wisconsin State Journal recently. "Or maybe just relaxing a little bit and understanding that she has the tools to be a real good goaltender."
Campbell said she is comfortable and more than fine with the workload.
"Honestly, I embraced it all," said Campbell. "Because going in it was my goal to be starting and I guess playing every single game, you don't really expect that... but I was just fortunate that I was able to go into the season to take on that workload. I played 38 games last year, so that's kind of a lot with school on top of that and travel."
Campbell will be expected to be in top form because Wisconsin has made a habit of contending for national titles.
Johnson guided the Badgers to national championships in 2006, '07, '09 and 2011 and in the spring of 2017, his No. 1 -ranked team rolled to the Women's Frozen Four before falling 3-0 to Clarkson in the national final.
A year ago, Campbell backstopped to the No. 2 Badgers to the Frozen Four semifinals before bowing out in a heartbreaking 4-3 double-overtime 4-3 loss to Colgate. Colgate scored three power-play goals, including the winner, to advance to the title game.
"It still stings a lot because we were so close to getting to the final," said Campbell. "We were a young team and didn't really know what to expect. If we were to play that game over again, I think we would've played that game different. We probably went into that game not confident enough."
With the possibility of another trip to the Frozen Four looming, Campbell and her teammates have a tough schedule ahead. Their first action after the break comes Jan. 11-12 against the No. 8 Ohio State Buckeyes followed by a crucial two-game series against the No. 2-ranked University of Minnesota. The visiting Golden Gophers handed the Badgers their only loss, a 1-0 decision, on Oct. 27.
"I think we're at a similar point, our record is the same as last year. I think last year the biggest difference was we were pretty inexperienced — with 16 underclassmen," said Campbell. "This year, we have a lot more experience and it's felt like that out on the ice."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
Updated on Thursday, December 20, 2018 at 7:26 PM CST: Adds video