Kristen Campbell: how Grand Forks helped elevate Wisconsin’s next big thing
“The most chaotic experience I had ever been a part of.”
Kristen Campbell’s last two years have been enough to cause anyone whiplash.
After paying her dues with the promising University of North Dakota women’s hockey program, she had hoped that her 2017-18 season would find her between the pipes for the majority of the games at UND. She had redshirted her freshman year, played five games her sophomore, and was ready for her coming-out party on the ice.
Instead, she was rocked by one of the more callous moves in modern NCAA history.
The University of North Dakota women’s ice hockey program had spawned nine Olympians in just a 15-year span. They had yet to win an NCAA championship, but girls wanted to play there; with the iconic Lamoureux twins as alumni of the program, they had a seemingly bright future.
Then, in late March, word came down from the top through text messages and tweets. The program – along with men’s and women’s swimming and diving – was given the axe, two years after UND had cut both men’s baseball and golf for budgetary reasons.
From a financial standpoint, it was a decision the school felt they had to make, but the hockey community is in near-unanimous agreement that the execution was downright embarrassing. A lot about it, Campbell explained in reflection, didn’t add up.
Selfless to the core, Campbell’s first sentiments about the situation were expressions of concern for her teammates.
“The hardest part,” she explained to InGoal, “was worrying about the person next to you, not knowing what their future held and seeing all of your teammates’ goals and aspirations be blown up in the blink of an eye.”
Her worries weren’t entirely about her teammates, though. She went from hopes of a legitimate shot as an NCAA DI starter to having no program in mere minutes, months after many schools had already all but finalized their rosters for the upcoming season.
Campbell’s numbers her first season on the ice were uninspired, although a limited sample size hurt her more than anything. Her .894 save percentage in all situations was recorded in just five games, a small enough body of work that there was no guarantee the Brandon, Manitoba native would find a program willing to take her – and let her start – that late in the spring.
She had Team Canada experience, though, and a game against the Wisconsin Badgers during that five-game sample size impressed the program.
They had already tried recruiting her in the past, and this time – through a stroke of good fortune – had only a tandem of freshman on their roster for the upcoming season.
She committed, joining the active roster immediately – and fast forward to March of 2018, she was one of Wisconsin’s most decorated goaltenders already.
“Every goalie coach brings something unique and different to the table.”
Her career was a slow build, despite what her seemingly meteoric rise may suggest.
Much of that has to do with her own work ethic. First on the ice, last off, Campbell is a hopeful future nutritionist and a relentless worker.
Her fitness level was, in part, also credited to the work she did with both Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando, the famed twins that have become household names on the US Women’s National Team in recent years.
“Taking their shots really helped me elevate my game,” she remembered.
At first, Campbell described, it was uncomfortable; the speed they played, the level of their shots, even the way they treated drills like actual game scenarios.
In time, though, she got comfortable being uncomfortable.
“Working with these two, they had structured drills that mimicked game-like scenarios, and would also make sure to hit specific areas that I wanted to target; puck handling, patience on my feet, net play, reading the release of the puck, rebound control, breakaways, battle drills. Every session with them had a definite purpose and plan.”
It was an invaluable resource, added to her already-impressive arsenal of coaches and mentors.
The twins weren’t the only members of the Lamoureux family that Campbell had been training with, though.
Although the identical sisters are the most famous siblings in the Grand Forks, North Dakota-based clan, they come from what can only be described as a hockey brood.
In addition to the two Olympic gold medalists, there are four brothers. At 28, Jocelyne and Monique are the youngest; then there is 29-year-old Mario, a center who plays in Norway; 30-year-old Pierre-Paul, an associate coach with the USHL’s Fargo Force; 31-year-old Jacques, most recently a center with the FHL’s Port Huron Prowlers; and 33-year-old Jean-Philippe, a goaltender playing over in Austria.
The eldest of the six siblings, Jean-Philippe goes by JP. He also runs a goaltending school, JPL Goaltending, as the only sibling to follow in their father’s footsteps and spend his career in the crease.
JP operates both youth and elite camps, instructing in the summers out of Grand Forks and Las Vegas.
The eldest Lamoureux explained to InGoal that his window of opportunity for instruction is somewhat short in the summers due to his playing career overseas. Still, he made it a point over the years to reach out to local goaltenders in the Grand Forks area, both at the local high schools and at UND.
He worked with Zane McIntyre before the Bruins prospect worked his way out east to Boston, and spent time with former North Dakota starter Shelby Amsley-Benzie prior to her move to the Minnesota Whitecaps.
Then, in the summer after her redshirt season, he started working with Campbell as well.
Campbell had initially started off working out with the twins, but joined Lamoureux and Amsley-Benzie that summer at goalie practices as well.
When she joined JPL Goaltending for workouts, Campbell had spent time with eight goaltending coaches already – not because she couldn’t find a good fit, but out of sheer desire to always be a student of the game.
“When I was young,” she explained, “I worked with Tyler Plante – former player for the WHL Brandon Wheat Kings and now their Goaltending Coach – as well as Dan Ferguson at GDI, Andy Kollar and Rejean Beauchemin at the Icelab in Winnipeg, Gord Woodhall, Brent Zelenewich, Eli Wilson Goaltending, Eli Rosenthal, and Karl Goehring.”
Every coach brought something different to Campbell’s game, adding another dimension to her performance over the years.
When she started working with Lamoureux, though, the attention to detail magnified.
There was a strong power skating foundation and some incredible tracking work already present in Campbell’s game from her relentless summer regimens, hitting multiple camps and taking in a wide spectrum of perspectives.
Lamoureux also saw, though, that there was sometimes almost too much movement being made on each save. For him, there was clearly plenty of promise, but a lot left to introduce as well.
“When I first trained Kristen,” he told InGoal, “I was very excited because you could see she had tremendous athletic ability. She is for sure the most powerful female goalie I’ve ever seen.”
His goal became to harness that power and create a more consistent, efficient game.
Lamoureux explained that his coaching process involves a foundation built on four pillars: Technique, mindset, vision, & mobility, starting with the technique.
For Campbell, that meant reining her in a bit from the get-go.
“She wanted to stop every puck,” he explained, “but she was over working and chasing the game a bit. She needed to work smarter, not harder.”
He introduced the concept of zone mapping to her game, creating a mental layout of the ice and establishing the best times to challenge or retreat based on where the puck was coming from. Depth management became an early focus, cleaning up her rebound control and establishing a more simplistic approach to stopping the first shot.
From there, the pair created a more cohesive body of technical work when it came to her transitions, post integration, and positioning in relation to puck trajectory and proper reads. They worked on when to use reverse-VH and VH, how to utilize proper stick positioning on jam plays, and how to establish proper foot alignment when tracking and moving with the play.
From relentless edgework – which Campbell now works through before every skate, a practice she credits her improved skating ability to – to shooting drills with the St. Cloud State players and Rocco Grimaldi of the Colorado Avalanche, Lamoureux pushed Campbell outside of her comfort zone until the new elements of her game were almost second nature.
It was an easy enough transition from there, he explained, to putting the body of work together.
One of the most valuable pieces of her game is an elite tracking ability, something she brought with her to UND from seven seasons of camps under the instruction of Tyler Plante. While attending his sessions, Plante introduced Campbell to white and colored pucks; the white pucks helped her ability to use peripheral vision to track shots without losing her sightline, while the colored pucks – which Campbell was expected to verbally identify by color as they were fired her way – helped her to incorporate mental exercises into her tracking regimen.
That piece of the puzzle fit in seamlessly with Campbell’s new depth management and save selection process. Already a step above the competition when it came to finding the puck on the ice, she was now better able to put herself in a position to easily stop the shot with minimal movement.
After that first summer, Lamoureux insisted that all the then-UND starting hopeful needed was a season to properly implement what she had learned.
That didn’t quite come the following year.
Senior Alexis Shaw took over as starter following Amsley-Benzie’s final season, leaving Campbell with just those five games at Ralph Engelstad Arena. And the season after that, Campbell was headed to a new program entirely.
“The only thing we could all do at the end of the day was put our best foot forward, and go off and have success in other places.”
Headed out of state with just five games under her belt and a starting job to fight for, Campbell and Lamoureux went to work the summer of 2017, making sure she was ready for her new year.
“Getting ready for this past season, I think [Campbell] felt a sense of urgency to establish herself with a new program,” Lamoureux surmised.
Knowing what was ahead, that off-season was a flurry of preparation.
“This past summer,” she said, “I hadn’t gotten moved down to Wisconsin yet and still had my lease at UND. I also knew that I had a setup that would be hard to beat anywhere else for the summer.”
And so she stayed in North Dakota, picking up where the pair had left off the year prior.
Lamoureux and Campbell had now worked together for a summer already, so there was less to be felt out and identified on the coach’s end.
The 2017 camp sessions were instead spent compartmentalizing what Campbell felt she needed to work on, prioritizing her weaker areas before hitting on the other pillars of her game to maintain a solid foundation.
“Last summer,” Lamoureux explained, “[Kristen] wanted to work on net play and lateral mobility. So we organized our week to focus more on those skills. We hit all areas but, for her, those skills needed more reps.”
Their work went beyond the ice time, though.
The pair worked out together the summer before Campbell made her Wisconsin debut, giving her an inside look at how Lamoureux stayed healthy and conditioned as a pro himself. They worked on stretches, implementing off-ice workouts into their sessions in a unique setup that few young goaltenders get with their mentors.
Then, they went their separate ways.
The pair were unable to work together during the year; Lamoureux was playing in Austria, so Campbell made do with his drill book and ran her own goalie sessions with volunteer shooters on a weekly basis.
“I [would] bring my iPad out on the ice for our goalie sessions and wheel it around,” she revealed, “getting different angles and viewpoints of the shooter. I’d then break the video down later at home & be able to make adjustments for the next day in practice.”
Adding in some strobe glasses to maximize her tracking even more, Campbell’s game was razor-sharp, and it showed.
“The only thing we could all do at the end of the day was put our best foot forward, and go off and have success in other places.”
From his own perspective, Lamoureux understood, to an extent, why the women’s program folded when it did.
That didn’t mean he didn’t feel the impact when it happened, alongside the players he’d grown so invested in.
Like his sisters and younger brother Mario, JP played for the University of North Dakota for four years – and although he’s the only one of the four not to captain the team during his tenure, he started alongside some pretty iconic names. His freshman and sophomore seasons, he split starts with Jordan Parise, older brother to current Minnesota Wild alternate captain Zach. He played with names like Travis Zajac, TJ Oshie, Jonathan Toews, and Drew Stafford.
After graduation, he ended up working with a number of the goaltenders on the women’s team, watching his younger sisters put the program on the map in the process. His former roommate and teammate, Erik Fabian, was an assistant coach for the women’s team from 2010 until it folded.
As it was for his sisters, the UND hockey community was every bit a part of him.
Sure; the money, as it was, just wasn’t there. Ralph Engelstad Arena was too big to operate during women’s games and draw consistent revenue; although the 1,100-plus fans that attended each game on average put the team third among women’s NCAA programs in 2015 (and ahead of anywhere from 5-15 men’s programs on any given year), it wasn’t enough for the 11,600 seats it would take to fill the arena.
Lamoureux suggested that a solution playing the women’s program out of a smaller venue may have kept them viable, but it appeared that the athletic director’s office had little interest in holding discussions.
They took a tough call, he reasoned, and made it – but did a tremendous disservice to the skaters he and others cared so much about by failing to provide them with warning or new opportunities.
Despite that, he said, Campbell earned her way to where she is now. And for Campbell, it isn’t about the ‘what ifs’; she’s too busy making history with a program that ‘welcomed her with open arms’, to use her words, when everything was turned upside down.
In October, Campbell became the first goaltender in women’s Badgers history to win her first nine starts for the program; the following week, she was 11-0, and by early November, she had recorded her fourth shutout of the season.
She wouldn’t lose her first game until November 24th, against Northeastern.
She would finish with a tremendous .939 save percentage through 38 games played, starting every single contest from opening night to the 4-3 double-overtime loss against Colgate (the eventual national champions) at the Frozen Four.
She was WCHA’s Goalie of the Month in September, October, November, and December, going undefeated at home all season, and posted a tremendous .875 win percentage – not save percentage, but win percentage – in-conference.
Twelve shutouts; more games than she had played the entire year prior. And for her teammates, a legendary work ethic and focus that put her a class above the rest.
As with her technical game, much of that order and focus to her season was a big part of what she and JP discussed during their summers on the ice; a nice positive to take away from the two years she had at UND.
“Kristen had some Hockey Canada experience, which is a big feather in her cap,” he summarized.
“But with only 5 games played, there was no guarantee that she was the slotted number one. She had to earn her opportunity to play in training camp, and she did just that.
We had talked about getting the first win, building from that, and sticking to the process of development. No matter how the weekend goes, one must get back to the routine on Monday and get a little better each day.”
“We always talked a lot about sticking to the process, trusting the process was my mentality this entire season. Preparing for each weekend to the best of my ability, then executing for 60 minutes… trusting the work and preparation I had received to be ready to play at my highest level.”
It’s hard not to see that philosophy in the way her season played out.
Campbell is the fourth Badgers goaltender in five years to be named as an All-American this spring, and she earned her way to the distinction despite having no team less than a year before she took the ice for the Frozen Four.
Next year, she’s got a chance to do it again.
Her near-perfect season looked practically flawless at times. But when she joins up with JP again this summer, chances are she’ll have a list of things to work on: and like they do, they’ll go to work.