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Leafs’ Campbell’s Long Road to Becoming an NHL Starting Goaltender Began Over 7 Years ago Against Andersen

Before Jack Campbell and Frederik Andersen were teammates, they both started their NHL careers on Oct. 20, 2013. Campbell’s 3-1 lead was erased when Andersen made his debut in relief. On Thursday, Campbell gets the spotlight with Andersen reprising a backup role.

When Jack Campbell joined the Toronto Maple Leafs in February of last year, the goaltender was reminded of his NHL debut.

It was Oct. 20, 2013, when Campbell played his only NHL game with the Dallas Stars. An 11th overall pick by the club in the 2010 NHL Draft, he received his opportunity after starting goaltender Kari Lehtonen suffered a lower-body injury earlier in the month. Backup goaltender Dan Ellis took the reins in net during Lehtonen's absence. But after five consecutive games and back-to-back contests on the schedule in Southern California, Campbell got the nod in goal against the Anaheim Ducks.

As far as debuts, it started well as the Stars beat Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller three times on 12 shots in the opening frame and Dallas went into the first intermission with a 3-1 lead. 

"Then they put Freddy Andersen in and Hiller came out and yeah, we lost the game," Campbell recalled.

In an odd coincidence, Andersen also made his NHL debut that night, albeit in relief. It marked the first time that two goalies had debuted in the same game in over eight years. As Campbell's high draft pick put lofty personal expectations to accelerate his NHL career, Andersen had blazed his own trail by becoming the first Danish goaltender to play in an NHL game.

"After the period, I was just tapping the guys as they were coming off the ice when (Ducks head coach) Bruce Boudreau came over and said ‘hey kid, you’re going in,'" Andersen said of his debut. "I was supposed to start a few days later in Montreal, so I knew that I would start soon, but for that game, I just had to stretch and get ready to go in.”

Andersen made 24 saves in two shutout periods to collect his first NHL victory as the Ducks scored five unanswered goals to defeat the Stars 6-3. 

Campbell made 41 saves on 47 shots to receive his first loss and he wouldn't see another NHL net for three years. 

Meanwhile that game put Andersen’s NHL career on a rocketship. He became the first goalie in 20 years to win his first six NHL games and just the second goalie to win 25 (or more) of his first 30 NHL decisions. He continued with the Ducks for three seasons as a platoon goaltender. 

The Leafs then traded the 30th pick in the 2016 NHL Draft and a second-round pick in 2017 to Anaheim for the rights to Andersen and promptly signed him to a five-year, $25 million deal to become the team's starting goaltender

On Feb. 6, 2020, Campbell met Andersen for the first time, just a day removed from being traded to Toronto from the Los Angeles Kings.

Campbell never forgot about that night Anaheim.

"I brought it up the first time I met him here in Toronto and I was like 'ah, you bugger, you got me in the NHL debut,'" Campbell said. "He came in and shut the door and yeah, we laugh about it a little bit."

Andersen was amused.

"It was fun, maybe more for me than him since I was on the winning side,” he said. "But it’s funny how it worked out now that we’re teammates."

On Thursday, Campbell will make his NHL postseason debut as the Maple Leafs' starting goaltender when they host the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the NHL playoffs.

The 29-year-old from Port Huron, Michigan, had a breakout season in 2021. He overcame a leg injury earlier in the year and set an NHL-record 11 wins to start a season. His ability to respond positively following a three-game slide that followed was enough for head coach Sheldon Keefe to name Campbell as his Game 1 starter.

"I believed I could do some good things at this level and I thought I proved that throughout my career," he said. "It's where I expect to be and I'm grateful for the opportunity."

Before this season, Campbell spent his career as a backup. He watched playoff hockey from the bench in Los Angeles as he served as Jonathan Quick's understudy before watching Andersen during the Leafs' qualifying-round exit against the Blue Jackets in August.

Andersen will now serve as the backup for Game 1, much like he did in his NHL debut.

"Freddy's always there if I have a question just being a great great teammate," Campbell said. "I couldn't have asked for a better partner."

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