The New York Hockey Report: Young Stars Shine
By Joe McDonald
But at 6:40 of opening night in Buffalo, with about 50 friends and family looking on, Islanders rookie Chris Campoli, came up and buried a big rebound for his first NHL tally.
“It was kind of blurry,” the 21-year old, Ontario native, whose family came to Buffalo to see him play, said. “To do it in front of my family was great. It meant a lot to them and it’s something I will look back and cherish.”
The Islanders are expecting a lot more of those types of scores from the offensive defensemen. Being picked in the seventh round [224th overall] in the 2004 draft, Campoli was considered an afterthought, but his skating ability surprised many in camp last year.
Coach Steve Stirling liked his skating ability and ranked him as an “8” on a scale of one to five, because he’s so good. It allows Campoli to drive into the offensive zone and toss in second and third chances throughout the game.
He is careful, though, about taking too many risks.
“It’s what you see and watching different plays develop,” Campoli explained. “Obviously, up one goal late in the third period, I won’t be jumping up in the rush, because it’s not a good time to. But early in the game or in the middle of the game, no matter what the score, it is welcome by our coaches, so if I see the opportunity, I will go.”
Playing with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in 2004, Campoli displayed that prowess with 15 goals and 34 assists in 79 games. He was one of the bright spots on a team that failed to make the Calder Cup Playoffs and now he is trying to use those skills in the NHL.
“It’s definitely a step above [in the NHL],” he said, “No doubt about it. Every team with every line has a skilled player and you don’t see that depth-wise in the American League. Every time you are out there, you have to be careful not to make mistakes. It’s magnified that way.”
To make his transition easier, the Islanders have teamed Campoli up with Alternate Captain Brad Lukowich. The seven-year NHL veteran and two-time Stanley Cup winner took Campoli under his wing and is his roommate on the road. Campoli said Lukowich has been a great teacher from day one and added, “It’s been great. He’s has had a lot of different outlooks on things. He’s been encouraging and has something I didn’t think of before.”
Even with all the guidance and early season success, Campoli does know he has more work to do.
“I have to work hard, first and foremost everyday,” Campoli said. “Just keep things simple. When I try too much, I get myself into some trouble situations.”
After the first week of NHL play, the three local teams still have some work to do.
The Rangers can’t seem to stay out of the penalty box. The Rangers have 32 penalties for the season, which is putting pressure on the penalty kill and shortening the time they have in the offensive zone. They are getting some production from the third and fourth lines, which are helping, but the bulk of their scoring will rely on the top line of Jaromir Jagr, Michael Nylander and Martin Rucinsky. Kevin Weekes has made some great saves, but also gave up us some easy shots, which cost the team a point or two. The Blueshirts have skated hard, which is something that hasn’t happened in a long time.
During the first two games, the Islanders can’t seem to play defense. Rick DiPietro was bombarded with 39 shots and 44 shots respectively and only his great play allowed the Isles to go 1-1 in those games. They did tone the offense down against Florida on Monday against the Panthers, but like the Rangers, couldn’t stay out of the penalty box.
The Devils also had the same problem as the Islanders and had problems on the defensive end, but because of the superior play of Martin Brodeur, New Jersey holds a 2-1 record. Paul Martin [four assists] and rookie Zach Parise [one goal and two assists] have been impressive.
In the Rangers’ overtime loss to Montreal last Thursday, Smithtown’s Chris Higgins scored his NHL first goal for the Canadiens. A first round pick [14th overall] in 2002, Higgins had 40 fiends and family in the stand. A Montreal fan growing up because of his father, many of his friends are Ranger fans, so the goal was extra sweet coming on the Madison Square Garden ice.